Progress Made for New Reactors in Japan, U.S., and a Door Opens in Australia

  • Four Japanese firms are in talks to combine their efforts to restart construction of a new reactor at the Higashidori plant, which is the first of two planned 1385 MWe ABWRs
  • U.S. announces the start of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Versatile Test Reactor. The 300 MW advanced design, which will be used to test new materials and fuels, could be bult by 2026 at either INL or ORNL.
  • Australia energy minister Angus Taylor has launched an inquiry into whether nuclear energy would be feasible and suitable for Australia, taking into account economic, environmental and safety issues.

Restart of Construction of a New Reactor at the Higashidori Plant

The Nikkei wire service reports that Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings is in talks with Toshiba, Hitachi and Chubu Electric Power on creation of a joint venture to resume building a stalled nuclear plant in northern Japan.

Tepco broke ground on the first ABWR reactor at Higashidori after receiving approval in January 2011. It scheduled completion in March 2017, but put the project on hold after March 2011.

The new company would complete the new build, operate and maintain the Higashidori nuclear plant as well as hold consultations with provincial authorities. Construction is expected to start next year. If work restarted it would be on the first of two planned 1385 MW ABWRs.

The proposal, which is the the first of its kind in Japan, is the result of talks on a four-way nuclear partnership that began about a year ago.

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Boiling Water Reactor Type; Image: U.S. NRC

A joint venture spreads out the risk involved in a new plant, as well as safety costs that have skyrocketed with the implementation of stricter regulatory safety standards after the Fukushima disaster. Sharing the risks of dealing with these costs is needed for the financially squeezed Tepco and Chubu Electric, which have yet to restart any of their nuclear facilities idled after the disaster.

Hitachi and Toshiba, meanwhile, could benefit from the opportunity to maintain expertise threatened by the collapse o the Japanese export market. Earlier this year, Hitachi announced plans to pull out of a U.K. nuclear project after hitting an impasse in negotiations with the British government. The U.K. government has disputed Hitachi’s cost estimates for the Moorside project.

Toshiba, which built the first plant at Higashidori nuclear site, has withdrawn from the nuclear energy industry. After the failure of the V C Summer project in South Carolina, it sold its Westinghouse business unit to a private equity firm in Canada.

The central government has already given the go-ahead for the Higashidori project. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), says it did so because it wants to see a realignment in the nuclear power industry.

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Assigning Tepco the role of building a new nuclear facility after the Fukushima disaster has been met with skepticism since the firm has not been able to restart its giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant with seven BWR type rectors located in in Niigata Prefecture. Political opposition to the restarts runs high in the province. Successive provincial governors have defied the national government by refusing to agree to restart of any of the seven reactors. Tepco is now trying to restart the two newest plants.

Tepco and Chubu may have plans for the joint venture to eventually take over operation of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka plant in the city of Omaezaki in Shizuoka Prefecture, on Japan’s east coast, 200 km south-west of Tokyo.

Japan has yet to restart any boiling-water reactors, the design type made by both Hitachi and Toshiba, leaving their personnel with no opportunities to maintain the technical skills required for long-term plant maintenance and repair. An 1100 MW BWR type reactor at the Higashidori site, commissioned in 2005, was shut down in 2011 and has remained offline since then.

Two of the five units, all BWRS, at Hamaoka are expected to be decommissioned, but three others are candidates for restart. This action combining the management of the two sites could shift thousands of employees to the new company.

Tepco expects the Higashidori project to expand its revenue as it faces huge compensation payments in connection with the Fukushima nuclear crisis and plant decommissioning costs.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Japan’s nuclear share in 2017 was about 3.6%. Before Fukushima, Japan generated about 30% of its electricity from nuclear and planned to increase that to 40%.

A recent energy white paper adopted by the Cabinet called for further efforts to cut carbon emissions by keeping to a nuclear generation target of 20% to 22%.

Nine units in Japan’s reactor fleet are now in commercial operation. They are Ohi-3 and -4, Genkai-3 and -4, Sendai-1 and -2, Takahama-3 and -4, and Ikata-3.

DOE Starts EIS for Versatile Test Reactor

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) has formally announced the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the construction of a Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) to test fuels and materials for use in advanced civilian nuclear power reactors.

A key fuel type is high assay low enrich fuel (HALEU) at greater than 5% U235 and less than 20%. HIgh temperature gas reactors (HTGR) and molten salt designs currently in development in the private sector expect to use this fuel type either as TRISO fuel or other uranium type fuels. Because of the higher temperstures of HTGRs, and the corrosive nature of molten salts, materials testing will be a key process step in achieving success with either reactor type.

DOE has published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), announcing that the department will develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to study the impacts of building a Versatile Test Reactor in the U.S. to test future fuels and materials.

DOE is required by NEPA to evaluate “a range of reasonable alternatives” for the construction and operation of a VTR and its associated facilities, including a “No Action Alternative” to serve as a basis for comparison with the action alternatives. The agency plans to build the reactor at either the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) or the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

In addition, the Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site are two locations under consideration for the fabrication of the fuel needed to run the Versatile Test Reactor.

The fact that DOE has announced two possible sites for the multi-billion dollar project will undoubtedly set off a competitive effort between the congressional delegations of the two states

The Department of Energy said the new versatile test reactor is needed as part of an effort to revamp the nation’s nuclear power industry by developing safer fuel and power plants.

In making the announcement U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, “This testing capability is essential for the United States to modernize its nuclear energy infrastructure and for developing transformation of nuclear energy technologies that reduce waste generation and enhance nuclear security.”

“The lack of a domestic reactor with versatile fast-neutron-spectrum testing capability is a significant national strategic risk affecting the ability of DOE to fulfill its mission to advance the energy, environmental, and nuclear security of the United States and promote scientific and technological innovation.”

Newly sworn in U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Rita Baranwal said, “DOE needs to develop this capability on an accelerated schedule to avoid further delay in the United States’ ability to develop and deploy advanced nuclear energy technologies.”

“If this capability is not available to U.S. innovators as soon as possible, the ongoing shift of nuclear technology dominance to other international states such as China and the Russian Federation will accelerate, to the detriment of the U.S. nuclear industrial sector. Beginning the NEPA process at this time will ensure that all environmental factors are considered before the Department makes a final decision to move forward with the project.”

World Nuclear News reported the VTR will be used to provide a source of fast neutrons to support the development of advanced reactor technologies. Such facilities are currently available in only a few locations worldwide and the USA has not operated one in over 20 years. The DOE was directed to develop the facility under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which became law in September 2018. DOE Sec Perry announced the VTR effort would go forward last February.

The reactor is to be a smaller (about 300 MWt) version of the GE Hitachi PRISM power reactor, which builds on the design legacy of the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that operated at Argonne National Laboratory from 1963 to 1994. VTR, like PRISM, would use metallic alloy fuels. DOE has previously said the facility could be in operation by the end of 2026.

Details of the Two Site Alternatives

The INL VTR Alternative would see the VTR sited at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC), using existing hot-cell and other facilities at the MFC for post-irradiation examination. The site’s current infrastructure “should be largely adequate” to support the facility, according to the DOE. Under this alternative, fuel for the VTR would be manufactured either at MFC or at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Under the ORNL VTR Alternative, the reactor would be sited at a yet-to-be-identified location at ORNL, which is in eastern Tennessee. Several existing facilities would be used and/or modified to provide operational support and post-irradiation examination capabilities. Driver fuel for the VTR would “likely be manufactured elsewhere,” according to the Federal Register notice.

Opportunities for the Public Comment

During the first steps of this NEPA process, DOE invites the public to comment now through September 4, 2019 on what the department should include in the scope of the upcoming Draft version of the EIS.

Under NEPA, the Draft EIS analysis will be completed during the next several months, published, and the public invited to comment on it for 45 days. DOE will evaluate comments before the EIS is made final. When final, the EIS will be published and made available to the public for 30 days before the department can issue a Record of Decision.

In addition to gathering written comments, DOE will host two interactive webcast scoping meetings to provide information about the VTR and the NEPA process, and to gather oral and written comments.

The webcast scoping meetings will be held August 27, 2019, 6:00 ET/4:00 MT and August 28, 2019, 8:00 ET/6:00 MT, and will be accessible during those times on the internet August 27 and August 28. To join the webcast scoping meetings by phone, participants can call toll-free in the U.S. at 877-869-3847.

On a related front, the Energy Department late last year restarted the Transient Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory to test new nuclear fuels. That facility had been on standby since 1994.

Australia’s Government Open to Possible Use of Nuclear Energy

(WNN) Angus Taylor, the federal government minister for energy and emissions reduction, has asked the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy to investigate the nuclear fuel cycle and report by the end of the year.

The bipartisan inquiry will consider the implications of nuclear power in a system that is predominantly (61%) dependent on coal and to report on “the circumstances and prerequisites necessary for any future government’s consideration of nuclear energy generation including small modular reactor technologies in Australia.”

MP Ted O’Brien, chair of the standing committee on the environment and energy, will lead the inquiry.

He said the committee, which consists of government, opposition and cross bench MPs, will try to establish whether nuclear energy would be feasible and suitable for Australia, taking into account economic, environmental and safety issues.

Taylor, the minister launching the nuclear inquiry, has a background in economics and law. Prior to entering government service, Taylor worked for global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He was made a partner in 1999.

O’Brien, who will lead the inquiry, spent over 10 years with global consulting firm, Accenture. Just prior to entering politics, his final posting with Accenture was as Director of Growth & Strategy for the Asia Pacific and Emerging Markets – responsible for corporate strategy, mergers & acquisitions based in Beijing.

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The inquiry is being commissioned as the country faces an acute shortfall in reliable generation capacity and doubling of electricity prices over the past decade. Coal, historically the main source of electrical generation power, is in a downturn due to climate change concerns.

WNN reports that the inquiry will have to review previous inquiries into the nuclear fuel cycle, including South Australia’s 2016 Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission and the 2006 Review of Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy in Australia, also known as the Switkowski report. WNN reports that in contrast particularly to the 2006 team, the eight members of this inquiry are essentially lay people – none has any evident background with energy.

The Australian Department of Agriculture reports that wind energy projects have been paired with construction of natural gas plants to provide baseload support for the grid relative to the intermittent nature of wind power. Reports of exactly how much wind power gets to the grid vary in part due to differences in measurements by government, industry, wind energy investors, and green groups.

According to Geoscience Australia Australia’s current use of solar energy is low with solar energy accounting for only about 0.1 per cent of Australia’s total primary energy consumption.

Minerals Council of Australia Endorses the Study

Nucnet reports that Tania Constable, chief executive officer of the Minerals Council of Australia said a federal government inquiry into the possibility of using nuclear energy in Australia is an important first step in starting “a mature fact-based national conversation for the Australian community,”

Ms Constable, who has a long career in energy policy, said the rest of the world is already focusing on the critical role nuclear energy will play in delivering zero emissions 24/7 energy to a power-hungry world.

She said that with 30% of the world’s known uranium reserves and as the third largest uranium producer, Australia will be critical to helping the world meet its need for electricity while also reducing emissions.

The Minerals Council, which represents Australia’s exploration, mining and minerals processing industry, said Australia has some of the highest energy costs in the developed world, an ageing baseload power generator fleet and real challenges with integrating large amounts of intermittent energy sources into the grid without appropriate back-up supplies.

Ms Constable said that by initiating an inquiry into nuclear power, the federal government is allowing the Australian community to have an honest discussion regarding the role existing and new nuclear technologies like small modular reactors could play in addressing Australia’s medium and long-term energy challenges.

The Australian Nuclear Association also welcomed the inquiry, calling on the government to repeal “long-outdated” federal and state legislation preventing its proper consideration. It called for informed public debate while acknowledging concerns of safe waste disposal and radiation protection.

Opposition Not Sitting It Out

Meanwhile, Australia’s opposition Labor Party has asked the government to outline potential locations for nuclear power plants. Party leader Anthony Albanese suggested the inquiry showed the government was softening its position on lifting the ban on nuclear power. Albanese has no expertise in energy issues. He was first elected in a campaign which emphasized opposition to airport noise.

Conservative Liberal and Nationals MPs have been pushing for the inquiry, arguing nuclear could be a way to drive power prices down and cut emissions.

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Atoms for Humanity Summit 9/3-5; Purdue Univ & Third Way

Atoms for Humanity logoAtoms for Humanity Summit
September 3-5, 2019
Stewart Center (STEW), and
Purdue Memorial Union (PMU)
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
In partnership with Third Way

What role can nuclear power play in getting humans to Mars or eliminating climate change? Also, nuclear energy has an increasing role in medicine and safety and security.

Industry leaders, policymakers and innovators will convene at Purdue for a three-day summit What IF Nuclear Innovation Could Save the World?: Atoms for Humanity on Sept. 3-5.

With nuclear power taking center stage in a growing national conversation about climate change, Purdue University–in partnership with Third Way, one of the nation’s leading think tanks focused on energy policy–is convening industry leaders, policymakers and innovators for the Atoms for Humanity Summit at the Purdue campus on September 3-5.

The three day Atoms for Humanity Summit will be anchored by two Keynote Speakers and Two Headliner events. A complete list of featured speakers and panelists is available here >> complete program schedule

In addition, there will be two days of in-depth breakout sessions exploring the future of nuclear power in the context of the four Purdue Ideas Festival themes: health, space exploration, AI and robotics, and sustainability.

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Keynote Speakers

* U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 3:30-4:30 p.m., Sept. 5. “America’s Role in the Nuclear Future.” Moderated by PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien.

* Naomi Hirose, executive vice chair for Fukushima Affairs Tokyo Electric Power Co., 3:30-5 p.m., Sept. 4, “Fukushima Forward.”

Headliner Panel Topics & Speakers

Sept. 3, 4-5:30 p.m., “Advancing Nuclear.” In the face of an accelerating climate crisis, nuclear power is at a crossroads. While the industry is an important source of carbon-free energy in the U.S., old plants are getting shuttered and new plants are struggling to gain financial footing. Enter next-generation nuclear. Innovations driven by advanced materials, super computing and modular construction – along with government and venture funding – is making a new era for nuclear power possible. A powerful lineup of industry and government movers and shakers, as well as advanced nuclear innovators, will provide a glimpse of the future.

Mark Peters – Director, Idaho National Laboratory
Chris Levesque – President and CEO, TerraPower
Tomás Díaz de la Rubia – Vice President for Discovery Park, Purdue University

Sept. 4, 10:30 a.m. to noon, “Next Gen Nuclear: Space Exploration.” Not since the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War-era race with the Soviet Union, has the quest for exploration beyond Earth been as starry-eyed and urgent. NASA, along with billionaire and venture-backed startups, has its eyes set on the moon and beyond as global competition heats up. This session will focus on how nuclear energy is necessary to provide power for a lunar outpost and to propel future space missions farther and longer than ever before.

Therese Griebel, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs
John Dankanich – Chief Technologist, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Miles O’Brien – PBS Science Correspondent and Executive Producer of The Nuclear Option for NOVA

Sept. 4, 1:30-3 p.m., “Next Gen Nuclear: Climate and Clean Energy.” What is nuclear energy’s role in a world weaning itself off carbon? That question has become an essential element of the growing debate over how to mitigate the near- and long-term effects of global warming. A panel of leading global experts will bring context to a debate that has become more public and more urgent.

Leslie Dewan, Founding Principal, Nucleation Capital
Ian Hamilton, Founder and CEO, Atlas Energy Systems
Chris Colbert, Chief Strategy Officer, NuScale Power
Jackie Kempfer, Clean Energy Policy Advisor, Third Way

Additional Headiner Sessions

Sept. 5, 10:30 a.m. to noon. “Next Gen Nuclear: Medicine and Health.” About one-third of all procedures used in modern hospitals involve radiation or radioactivity. This session will focus on the successes and challenges facing the field of nuclear medicine. How is the recent restructuring of the Tc-99m radioisotope market playing out domestically? How are nuclear diagnostics and treatments advancing personalized medicine? And how can fusion research spin out health applications?

Sept. 5, 1:30-3 p.m. “Next Gen Nuclear: Safety and Security.” The digital revolution – not just software and hardware, but big data, artificial intelligence and robotics as well – is transforming the nuclear power industry. Purdue is home to the PUR-1 reactor, now upgraded with the first fully digital instrumentation and control system in the United States. In this session, leading experts will discuss how digital technology promises to revolutionize the industry.

All of these panels will feature top-notch experts alongside leading researchers and students from Purdue University. Moderated by award-winning PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien and Third Way clean energy policy advisor Jackie Kempfer, themes and topics to be explored during these sessions include:

  • What is nuclear power’s role in the climate and clean energy debate?
  • How close are we to scaling next generation nuclear innovations?
  • How will NASA power deep space exploration and colonization with nuclear power?
  • What role will nuclear play in the future of personalized medicine?
    Will AI and robots make the nuclear industry safer and more secure?

The Atoms for Humanity Summit will be forward thinking in its approach and promises to be a signature event for policy-makers, business leaders, entrepreneurs–as well as students who will play a vital leadership role in the industry’s future.

The summit is a part of Purdue’s Ideas Festival, the centerpiece of the university’s Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Campaign, which is a series of events that connect world-renowned speakers and Purdue expertise in a conversation on the most critical problems facing the world. This is the first Ideas Festival event in which all four Giant Leaps themes are featured: space exploration, artificial intelligence, health and longevity, and sustainable economy and planet.

This is the third summit O’Brien will have moderated as part of the Ideas Festival. The first two explored “What IF We Could Engineer Better Health” and “What IF Food Was Digital.” Before joining the “PBS NewsHour,” O’Brien was a science, environmental and aerospace correspondent for CNN.

This event also will celebrate Purdue’s recent announcement of the nation’s first all-digital nuclear reactor system being installed at the university.

Register Here

  • The cost is $150, and registration is required.
  • Travel, hotels, and Purdue campus maps here

Media contact: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu or Jim Bush at jsbush@purdue.edu.

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Mini Reactors Are Going Places and Pack a Lot of Power

  • NuGen launches self-funded entrepreneurial effort to develop a 20 MWe mini reactor with an eye on its potential use to power landing sites on the Moon and Mars. It also has plans for terrestrial applications.
  • URENCO U-Battery takes next step in Canadian National Lab SMR program. U-Battery is a 4 MWe high-temperature gas-cooled micro nuclear reactor
  • OKLO is engaged with NRC in pre-licensing meetings. The firm is developing a 2 MWe fast reactor using U-Zr metal fuel (HALEU) based on the fuel in EBR-II

While the mainstream and nuclear trade press, including this blog, have spent considerable time reporting on the progress of various developers of small modular reactors (SMRS), another group of entrepreneurial efforts are underway to develop mini reactors. These units are easily transported by truck or train and come in sizes of 1-10 MWe.

While there is overlap among the types of applications deployed by SMRs and mini-or-micro reactors, the smaller footprint, weight, and power ratings of these pint size power stations make them suitable for remote off-the-grid sites on earth and in outer space for keeping astronauts homesteads lit and warm on the Moon and Mars.

The costs of micro reactors are still a work in progress, but developers are banking on being able to produce power well below the cost of diesel powered generators and closer to the cost of natural gas than full size units.

All three firms profiled here forecast having operational units in the hands of customers by the end of the 2020s or sooner. A roadmap on paths to market for micro reactors, published in 2018 by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), estimates that once a micro reactor design enters the licensing process at NRC, a customer has signed on, and construction begins, the time to entry to revenue service is about 7-10 years.

Here are three reports on progress for mini-reactors.

NuGen Engine is at Start of Development Cycle

nucdev symbolNuGen’s self-funded startup is developing  the NuGen Engine [tm] which is a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR) in a small package.  Steve Rhyne, CEO of the firm, (NuGen) participated in an email interview with this blog on August 3, 2019, about the reactor which could have power ratings of up to 20 MWe for remote site terrestrial applications.  (Slide deck PDF File) Some details of the reactor core and fuel remain proprietary information at this time.

NB: What is the NuGen reactor?

Rhyne: The microreactor called the NuGen Engine has a patented revolutionary helical fuel core, which results in a shorter fuel core and higher efficiency.  The helical fuel core and other components are fully integrated and enclosed in a single module.

It is a direct-cycle gas-cooled microreactor enclosed in a single module. Using a direct-cycle concept eliminates the “balance of plant” infrastructure, such as the secondary loop, allowing for a simpler design. The firm is focusing on the simplicity of its design to minimize licensing costs, operational requirements, maintenance costs and the risk of damage during transportation and siting.

NB: What are some of the intended uses of the micro reactor?

Rhyne: The design is adaptable for space applications. It could serve as a lunar reactor at a permanent outpost or habitat on the moon and provide heat and electricity for in situ resource utilization (e.g., for water extraction, fuel production and 3-D printing).   It could also serve as the electricity generator to power an electric propulsion rocket for travel to Mars.

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Concept – NuGen Engine on Mars. Image: NuGen

Terrestrial uses include being sited at remote locations, such as in Alaska and northern Canada, which are dependent on expensive diesel generators and high transportation costs for fuel and at mining sites that are also dependent on expensive diesel generators. Additional uses include 24/7 secure off-grid electricity for critical infrastructure, such as military bases, data centers and financial institutions, desalination, and for deployment in emergency response scenarios, such as in the aftermath of hurricanes.

Description of the Reactor

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Key Elements of NuGen Reactor.  Image: NuGen

The gas propulsion chamber is in the center and houses the helical fuel core. The helical passageways provide two key physical advantages. First the longer helical contact paths for the gas allow for a shorter core length. Second, the helical passageways support the enhanced gas transport. A drive shaft runs through the center of the fuel core.

The streamlined turbine and simplex compressor are coupled to the drive shaft, as is the electrical generator and, if needed, a circulation fan. After the gas leaves the outlet it is cooled by a variety of mechanisms, including: high-temperature heat exchanger; expansion of the gas in the containment vessel, mixing with the relatively cooler gas that bypasses the propulsion chamber, cooling pipes and other cooling features.

NB: Is the primary use of the microreactor for static power or is it also intended for propulsion and power in deep space?

Rhyne: We view the most likely first use of the NuGen Engine™ to be as a lunar microreactor to provide power on the surface since we believe that will be the first actual deployment of a space nuclear fission system.

The NuGen Engine™is adaptable for electric propulsion for deep space, and our preliminary scoping has indicated that it would meet the output, size and weight requirements for such use based on the parameters we have been advised of by NASA. Defense applications in earth orbit also come to mind.

Side note to readers – nuclear propulsion systems aren’t used to get a payload off the launch pad. Once in low earth orbit, the systems are turned on by remote or on-board commands and using the on-board guidance systems, take over from the depleted chemical propulsion rockets to speed their cargo and/or crew to their destination.

Safety in the event of a failed launch requires significant attention to design elements that will insure a reactor survives a catastrophic failure during the chemical powered phase of ascent. All of NASA’s radioisotope thermonuclear generators (RTGs) over the years have these safety-related design elements incorporated into their fabrication.

NB: What is your most recent development milestone, interest from a customer or collaboration of another firm, university, or national lab?

Rhyne: At the GAIN Microreactor Workshop held at INL in June 2019, NuGen publicly disclosed for the first time its revolutionary patented helical nuclear fuel core.

NB: Funding? Seed, SERIES A first round, venture, anything you can disclose? DOE funding?

Rhyne: Currently funded by the founder.  DOE funding is being considered.

NB: Partnerships in development?

Rhyne: NuGen’s team includes professors in three Texas A&M University Departments (Nuclear Engineering, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering).  NuGen is open to, and will be seeking, partnerships based on specific opportunities, as well as advancing its technology generally.

U-Battery SMR Moves to Next Stage of Canadian Lab Assessment

(WNN) The Urenco-led U-Battery consortium has completed the first stage of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) invitation to site a first-of-a-kind small modular reactor (SMR) at the Chalk River site. It is the fourth reactor design to do so.

As a result the U-Battery consortium has been invited by CNL to enter the Due Diligence stage – the second of CNL’s four-stage process – in which CNL will evaluate the proposed design, assess its financial viability and review the necessary national security and integrity requirements. The reactor is also progressing through the UK’s Advanced Modular Reactor Program.

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U-Battery General Manager Steve Threlfall said the consortium was a “step closer” to establishing a first-of-a-kind SMR at Chalk River.  (Slide Deck PDF file)

“We are entering the energy sector at a critical time in Canada’s energy transformation, and U-Battery has the potential to drive significant regional economic benefits across Canada while addressing urgent climate change needs,” he said.

U-Battery is a 4 MWe high-temperature gas-cooled micro nuclear reactor which will be able to produce local power and heat for a range of energy needs.

The project was initiated by Urenco in 2008 and the concept design was developed by the Universities of Manchester and Dalton Institute in the UK and Technology University of Delft in the Netherlands.

U-Battery Specifications

  • Twin unit – each unit has an output of 4MW electric, 10MW thermal.  Multiple modules can be installed at a single site.
  • Gas cooled – helium in primary circuit, nitrogen in secondary circuit (no water).
  • TRISO fuel – absence of water eliminates need for multiple back-up safety systems.
  • Heat and power source – 750°C process heat.

Market for Remote Power in Canada

Canada has a population of roughly 37.3 million and 80% of it is located within 200 miles of the U.S. border. Vast areas of the counry have population densities of as little as 4 people per square mile. Also, the arctic regions are inhospitable to modern urban life and infrastructure.  Many small towns and villages rely on diesel power for generating electricity on a local grid with very high costs mostly related to getting the fuel to the site.

Canada’s interior regions suport mining including coal, tar sands oil, and uranium. Power for all of these operations comes from fossil fuels. A nuclear battery could be a solution for these remote off-the-grid communities and the mine operations.

canada population density

Population density in Canada. Image: Statistics Canada

remote power needs in Canada

A recent CNL study found that the potential market for off-grid SMRs in Canada consists of over 600 power plants, with a total power demand of 35 GWe. Reference: “Potential Off-Grid Markets for SMRS in Canada”; D. Wojtaszek

TRISO Fuel Fabrication

The U-Batery consortium says the reactor technology, which uses high-integrity TRISO fuel, aims to replace diesel power with clean, safe, and cost-effective energy for a variety of applications, including remote communities and other off-grid locations such as mining operations.

TRISO fuel is constructed by triple coating spherical particles of uranium fuel. A uranium centre is coated in a layer of carbon, which in turn is coated in silicon carbide, with a further outer layer of carbon. (U.S. Department of Energy resource page on TRISO fuel)

triso fuel for u battery

TRISO Fuel for U-Battery. Image: URENCO

See prior coverage on this blog: TRISO Fuel Drives Global Development of Advanced Reactors

Urenco says U-Battery can help address a number of challenges related to the need to develop a low carbon economy.  Planned uses include;

  • Produce both power and heat for heavy industrial locations.
  • Could be used as a back-up support for large scale nuclear generating sites instead of diesel.
  • Be deployed in remote locations.
  • Provide solutions to water scarce areas through desalination
  • Generate hydrogen for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Status of Three Other SMR Firms in CNL Process

CNL aims to site an SMR at one of its locations by 2026, under a long term strategy in which it aims to become a global hub for SMR development. It launched its staged invitation process after a 2017 request for expressions of interest received responses from 19 technology developers interested in building a prototype or demonstration reactor at a CNL site.

WNN reports that the other proponents engaged in the CNL invitation process that have made the most progress are two SMRs and a micro reactor.

All three have completed the first phase of the process. Global First Power’s design has entered the third phase, which includes preliminary discussions on land arrangements, project risk management and contractual terms. The fourth and final project execution phase includes construction, testing, commissioning, operation and finally decommissioning of an SMR unit.

All the projects are subject to regulatory requirements and CNL’s invitation and evaluations are independent of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) licensing process.

Global First Power submitted an application to the CNSC earlier this year to prepare a site at Chalk River, the first licence application for an SMR to be received by the Canadian regulator. An environmental assessment of the project is now under way.

See prior coverage on this blogCanadian National Lab Advances Three SMR Designs

OKLO Mini Reactor in Prelicensing Discussions with NRC

oklo logoOne of the earlier efforts to devlop a mini reactor is the Oklo micro-reactor. Oklo (formerly UPower). It is a Californian company founded in 2013. The firm is developing a 2 MWe fast reactor using U-Zr metal fuel based on the fuel in EBR-II, but with lower burn-up.

Oklo is developing a compact 2 MWe fast spectrum reactor. The reactor operates purely on natural physical forces, with very few moving parts. It is designed to operate for 12 years before refueling.

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is working with the company on fuel development and qualification. OKLO is a partner with the INL on a DOE ARPE-E $1.8 million award of federal funding. INL and its partners are proposing a next generation metal fuel in support of a megawatt-scale compact fast reactor – being developed by Oklo Inc – that is uniquely sized for off-grid applications.

The team seeks to develop a fuel with a demonstrated production process and validated performance that incorporates engineered porosity to absorb and retain produced gasses, allowing for higher operating temperatures, as well as a diffusion barrier between the fuel alloy and the cladding to avoid material degradation, which removes the need for the complicated-to-manufacture sodium bond between fuel and cladding.

Since November 2016, the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been engaged in pre-application activities with Oklo. The docket number 99902046  in the NRC ADAMS system, which contains OKLO’s pre-application documents, indicates that the most substantive parts of the exchanges with the agency are closed to public access due to the proprietary nature of the data being shared with the NRC.

Unlike a few other SMR and nuclear battery developers, who have published significant information on the technical specifications of their designs, OKLO has kept most of its development information closely held.  For more information, readers are referred to the following patent: Passive inherent reactivity coefficient control in nuclear reactors (November 2017)

In May 2016 in congressional testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, CEO and founder Jacob DeWitt, said this about the design.

“It is sized appropriately to open up new opportunities for clean and safe nuclear power in remote, rural, and native communities, as well as industrial and military sites in areas that have previously been too small to support larger reactors. This system has the potential to reduce these customer’s energy bills by up to 90%.”

“Furthermore, our reactor is up to 300 times more fuel efficient than current reactors, and can consume the used fuel from today’s reactors, as well as the depleted uranium stockpiles around the nation.”

“In fact, our reactors, and others like it, could power the world for 500 years with the global inventory of used fuel and depleted uranium, all while reducing the radioactive lifetime of those materials. Our reactors can also assist with plutonium disposition by consuming excess cold war era materials and turning them into clean, peaceful energy.”

The Energy Policy Center Columbia University in New York has this information about the Oklo design (Pages 89-90 PDF file –A Comparison of Advanced Nuclear Technologies)

“The plant is designed to be a metal block containing uranium based metallic fuel in a heat pipe configuration that uses liquid sodium. The power conversion system is not final, but consideration is being given to organic Rankine cycle, steam, or super-critical CO2. There is insufficient technical information available publicly to put together a table of key parameters.”

“The design is such that the nuclear plant can ft into a standard shipping container. Two additional containers would house the power conversion system. With mass manufacturing of these small modules, designers claim they can produce electricity for $0.03/kWh. While the design is only in very preliminary stages, they have received venture capital funding to move the design forward.”

Note to readers: The above description indicates that the Oklo design would be using high assay low enriched fuel (HALEU) which is enriched to greater than 5% U235 but less than 20% U235.

See prior coverage on this blog

Oklo has been working with the Alaska Center for Microgrid Technologies Commercialization.  In May 2018 the firm received an award of 125 hours of technical consultation and analysis.

ACEP, was launched in August 2015 with funding through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Office of Naval Research and the University of Alaska. The Center focuses on providing technical and business assistance to accelerate a market of new microgrids and improve the affordability and reliability of microgrid energy systems.

Oklo has a minimalist web page and can also be found on Linkedin and  Facebook.

Reference Design – Solid Core Sodium Cooled Concept

Readers interested in the historical and conceptual basis for a solid core, sodium cooled nuclear batter are referred to the following technical paper which is open source data through DOE’s OSTI website.

Solid-Core Heat-Pipe Nuclear Battery Type Reactor
Award Number: DE-FC07-05ID14706 – Summary Report; September 30, 2008
University of California, Department of Nuclear Engineering, Berkeley, CA 94720
https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/940911

Ehud Greenspan;  https://nuc.berkeley.edu/people/ehud-greenspan/;
email:  gehud@nuc.berkeley.edu

Key Highlights of the Abstract

This project was devoted to a preliminary assessment of the feasibility of designing an Encapsulated Nuclear Heat Source (ENHS) reactor to have a solid core from which heat is removed by liquid-metal heat pipes (HP).

The HP-ENHS is designed to have a 20 year operation without refueling, very small excess reactivity throughout life, natural circulation cooling, walkaway passive safety, and robust proliferation resistance. The HP-ENHS reactor offers a number of advantageous features including:

  • (1) significantly enhanced passive decay heat removal capability;
  • (2) no positive void reactivity coefficients;
  • (3) relatively lower corrosion of the cladding
  • (4) a core that is more robust for transportation;
  • (5) higher temperature potentially offering higher efficiency and hydrogen production capability.

This preliminary study focuses on five areas: material compatibility analysis,

  • HP performance analysis,
  • neutronic analysis,
  • thermal-hydraulic analysis and
  • safety analysis.

Of the four high temperature structural materials evaluated, Mo TZM alloy is the preferred choice; its upper estimated feasible operating temperature is 1350 K. (1077 C).

Sodium is the preferred working fluid and the HP working temperature can be as high as 1300 K. (1027 C)

The preferred design utilizes nitride fuel made of natural nitrogen and loaded with depleted uranium and TRU from LWR spent fuel cooled for approximately 30 years. The preferred intermediate coolant is LiF- 2 BeF2; its average outlet temperature is ~ 1040K.

The required reactor vessel height is 9m. The vessel diameter is 4m

The resulting HP-ENHS reactor concept is unique in offering sustainable proliferation-resistant nuclear energy that can be delivered at very high temperatures. A number
of outstanding issues need be addressed, though, before the practicality of the HP design concept could be asserted. Included among these issues are:

  • More thorough reactor safety analysis, including transient analysis
  • Fuel-cladding chemical compatibility
  • Ability to manufacture the design
  • Maximization of the specific power by optimization of fuel/HP diameter and core length
  • Economic feasibility analysis

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Ohio Nuclear Plants Saved but at What Price?

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The Ohio legislature passed and the governor signed into law a measure to raise the rates bankrupt utility First Energy can charge its customers to keep two fully capable nuclear plants open. Davis-Besse, located near Toledo and the Perry plant east of Cleveland will not be decommissioned after all.

According to the Toledo Blade, First Energy spent $50 million on legislative races and lobbying to get the bill passed.

Opponents of the action vowed to put an initiated referendum on the November ballot to overturn the law, but they haven’t got much time to collect the necessary signatures and make their case to the public. The group must collect and the Ohio Secretary of State must certify 266,000 signatures for the measure to appear on the November ballot.

Critics of the legislation pulled no punches. On VOX, a liberal leaning media service, columnist David Roberts wrote, “Ohio just passed the worst energy bill of the 21st century. He called it “a corrupt bailout for dinosaur power plants that screws renewable energy in the process.”

Roberts, aka @drvox , mounts a market oriented assault on the bail out and hurls a number of well aimed attacks at the ways First Energy and the legislature handled the quest for the subsidies. The whole piece is worth a read because he addresses many of the reasons why some pro-nuclear advocates are wildly conflicted about Ohio’s political decision to save its nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, First Energy said it would go ahead with a scheduled refueling of Davis-Besse which is a big deal all on its own.

The new law is appropriately labeled as a bailout for nuclear power in Ohio. Residential users will get a new $0.85/month charge. Add to it charges for commercial and industrial users, and the combination will pump $150 million into two nuclear plants. The bill adds $20 million for solar energy projects but ends energy efficiency and alternative energy mandates in 2020.

Gov. Mike DeWine said this plan saves jobs and protects the environment. He even mentioned climate change. This is unusual for a republican elected official especially with the over hang of irrational and unrelenting climate change denial from the Trump administration.

“It’s important for the state of Ohio to be able to have a significant amount of energy that is created to be carbon free having nuclear plants today is the only way we’re going to achieve that,” DeWine said.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbied heavily against the law launching attack ads against the bill in the news media. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) pushed hard for it.

Maria Korsnick, CEO of NEI said;
“The majority of Ohio’s clean energy will remain in operation thanks to legislation passed by the legislature. Ohio’s nuclear power plants do more than churn out 90 percent of the Buckeye state’s clean power, they support 4,300 jobs and contribute $30 million per year to roads, school and public services. “

Generation Atomic, a pro-nuclear advocacy group, had organized a series of campaigns n Ohio to save the plants with volunteers knocking on doors to make the case for carbon-free electric power. On its Facebook page the group said the passage of the bailout bill “was a great day for Ohio and a great day for the planet.”

UK Rolls Out a New Finance Model to Build Nuclear Power Plants

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Source: World Nucler News

(WNN) The UK government has proposed use of a regulated asset base (RAB) model to finance nuclear construction, as an alternative to contracts for difference (CfD). Under the RAB model, power sector regulator would estimate a value of new nuclear projects and arrive at a fixed rate of return for investors. The revenues, from all UK consumers paying upfront through electricity bills, would enable a project company to recover approved costs and generate a return on capital to finance them.

Payments would increase over the construction period in line with project spending and then decline over the operating life of the asset, for up to 60 years. It is similar to the US rate base model in states with regulated utilities but with greater flexibility on the part of of the regulatory agency to determine what is ‘reasonable’ as the basis of a feed-in tariff.

The RAB model has been used successfully in the UK to fund other large infrastructure projects, including the £4.2 billion Thames Tideway sewer and storm water tunnel.
Significantly, the new RAB proposal could revive the prospects of Hitachi subsidiary Horizon and Toshiba subsidiary NuGen building new nuclear plants at Wylfa in Wales, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Moorside in Cumbria.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that “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.”

It could also “reduce … the risk for developers while limiting the impact on consumers’ bills in the long term.” The government would offer “protection to investors.”

The agency said that the UK government places a high priority on building 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity to supply reliable power beyond the operational span of existing units and to reduce CO2 emissions.

UK Commits Funding to Rolls-Royce SMR

(WNN) Having failed to progress earlier intentions regarding small modular reactor (SMR) development, the UK government has pledged £18 million towards development of a small modular reactor by a large consortium led by Rolls Royce. The firm is working on a 220 MWe PWR unit. Rolls Royce has designed three generations of naval reactors for submarine propulsion since the 1950s.

The government says it will commit GBP18.0 million (USD22.4 million) of initial funds to support the development of the power plant as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Rolls-Royce and its partners have said a UK SMR program could open up a global export market. The consortium comprises Rolls-Royce, Assystem, SNC Lavalin/Atkins, Wood, Arup, Laing O’Rourke, BAM Nuttall, Siemens, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Nuclear AMRC.

“Our design will bolster the UK’s ambitions to tackle climate change while taking a further step towards creating an estimated 40,000 British jobs, reinvigorating a vital part of the country’s advanced manufacturing base and potentially generating hundreds of billions of pounds in export revenues,” the British engineering firm said.

Rolls Royce said the SMR design’s technical and commercial foundations have been validated, it said, by the UK Research and Innovation team’s assessment for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund; the independent assessment by the government’s Expert Finance Working Group; and by due diligence led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The design has not yet been submitted for review by the UK generic design review process which can take up to four years.

Work To Start On Three New Nuclear Plants in China

(NucNet) China has started construction of three new nuclear power plants in the provinces of Shandong, Fujian and Guangdong, the country’s energy regulator said this week according to reports in the state owned news media.

Li Fulong, head of the development and planning office of the National Energy Administration, said construction had begun at the Shidaowan nuclear station near Rongcheng in Shandong province, at Zhangzhou in Fujian and at Huizhou Taipingling in Guangdong.

Shidaowan, in northeast China, will host the country’s first commercial Generation IV high temperature gas reactor demonstration project, comprised of two pebble-bed units, a design known as HTR-PM. The site is also earmarked for two CAP1400 units, a Chinese derivative of Westinghouse’s Generation III AP1000.

There have been credible reports that China will not proceed with commercialization of the HTGR design at this time which leaves open the work on the PWRs.

At the Zhangzhou site, in the east of the country, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is planning two Generation III 1000 MW Hualong One plants.

In February, Shanghai-based energy consultancy Nicobar reported that the first concrete date for Zhangzhou-1 would be in June this year with first concrete for Zhangzhou-2 following 10 months later.

At the Huizhou Taipingling site in Guangdong, China General Nuclear Power is also planning two Hualong Ones.

If confirmed, the construction of new nuclear plants would end a three-year hiatus in new-build approvals in China.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the last commercial reactor units to start construction in China was the Fangchenggang-4 Hualong One in December 2016.

Three-Year Delay for Flamanville EPR for Welding Repairs

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Head spinning news from France, which is experiencing a record heat wave, comes in the form of a disturbing bulletin from EDF.

The effort to build a new 1600 MW EPR unit at the Flamanville nuclear station in northern France will be delayed by about three years due to problems with the weldings, the company said this week

Last month regulator ASN said EDF will have to repair eight faulty pipe welds in the secondary main cooling loops before the start of commercial operation of Flamanville-3.

EDF said in its first-half earnings statement that “at this stage, commissioning cannot be expected before end of 2022.”

The company said it is studying three possible scenarios repairing the welds. Once this is done, and discussed with ASN, the company will release details of “the implications of the selected scenario in terms of planning and cost.”

This news is not a good signal to the French government which is considering several moves related to the future of the nuclear fleet. One of the proposed actions is to buy out the private sector investors in EDF and make it a 100% government operation. The other decision, which is also pending, is to decide which plants to close earlier and which later depending on their age and the demand for power along with decarbonizaion plans.

Construction of new plants will depend very much on having a viable design of Ffench origin which can be built time and within budget. Separately, France lags behind other nations in developing its own small modular reactor design.

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

CNL Launches Program to Accelerate SMR New Builds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmental Assessment Started for First CNL SMR

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

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

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

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

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

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

nuscale SMR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NuScale / NRC on Schedule to Complete Design Review

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

China Starts Work on 1st SMR at 125 MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for China’s HTGR Sufers a Setback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Czech Republic Releases Plan to Finance New Dukovany Units

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

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

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

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

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

Barriers to the Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Working Group to Estimate Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision Timeline for Dukovany

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

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

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

CEZ to Leave Foreign Markets

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

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

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

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

Other Nuclear News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See prior coverage on this blogPoland Sets Plans for Nuclear Energy

Bulgaria Starts Search for Investors for Belene Nuclear Power Plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barakah / UAE Regulator Certifies First Group Of Operators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rita Baranwal Sworn in as A/S Nuclear

RB swearing in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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