Development of the a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR), a concept with more than three decades of history behind it, in 2016 has had several new breakout milestones in China and the U.S.
- In March 2016 China installed the first of two reactor pressure vessels for a demonstration high temperature, gas cooled (HTGR) (Pebble Bed) reactor that is under construction at Shidaowan in Shandong province.
- In January 2016 the U.S. Department of Energy announced that X-energy, located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, has won a $40 million grant to develop the Xe-100 pebble bed High Temperature Gas-Cooled reactor (HTGR). The development grant includes $6M in FY2016, which will be supplemented with additional investor funding from X-energy.
- The Next Generation Nuclear Plant alliance (NGNP) continues its work on development of the Areva Antares HTGR, a prismatic block design. The NGNP alliance has published a business plan with the objective of building a prototype at the U.S. site in the 2020s.
The first of two reactor pressure vessels (RPVs) have been installed at the HTR-PM high temperature gas cooled reactor unit under construction at Shidaowan in Shandong province.
The second RPV is scheduled to be installed in May. The twin reactor unit, which will drive a single 210 MWe turbine to produce electricity, is expected to start operation in late 2017.
The RPV was manufactured in China by Shanghai Electric Nuclear Power Equipment. The large component, which weighs about 700 tonnes, was installed by plant construction manager China Nuclear Engineering Corp. (CNEC).
At the same time a pilot production line of fuel elements for the reactor has started at Baotou, Inner Mongolia. The factory operation will have a capacity of 300,000 spherical fuel elements a year. They produce a very high temperature with helium as the main medium to carry heat in the primary loop from the reactor to a secondary loop to produce steam.
According to a 2013 report by World Nuclear News, China Huaneng Group, is the lead organization involved in the demonstration HTR-PM plant with a 47.5% share; China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (CNEC) will have a 32.5% stake and Tsinghua University’s INET 20% – it being the main R&D contributor.
Future plans to build 18 more units like this one have reportedly been cancelled by the consortium. However, a proposal to build two 600 MWe HTGR plants proposes includes a plan for each plantto have three twin reactor and turbine units. These plants are to be built at a site in Ruijin City in China’s Jiangxi province. Construction is reportedly expected to start in 2017 with connection to the grid in 2021.
Saudia Arabia MOU part of ‘Silk Road” Strategy
Separately, China Huaneng signed an MOU with KA-CARE in Saudi Arabia in January 2016 to build similar units in that country. The announcement of the deal did not include details on schedule, technical scope, or cost of the project.
The agreement with Saudi Arabia will bring other possibilities for nuclear cooperation between China and other partners along the Belt and Road Initiative, which includes more than 60 economies along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
According to the South China Morning Post for April 4, 2016, China’s nuclear plant makers seek new markets along the ancient Silk Road into Asia, Europe, Africa and Middle East ‘One belt, one road’ policy for financing and support for infrastructure projects is helping nuclear plant constructors expand into overseas markets.
The newspaper reports that the policy was first proposed in 2013 to promote infrastructure construction deals overseas along with goods and services trade along the ancient Silk Road from China to Europe and along the ancient maritime trade route linking China to southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The state is offering financing at a time when China’s economy grew at the slowest rate in 25 years and its industry faces severe overcapacity problems.
Beijing has encouraged local firms to become involved in infrastructure projects in southeast Asia, Europe and Africa. Chinese nuclear reactor builders are a growing force in the global nuclear industry.
“The export of nuclear reactors will become one of the key pillars for executing China’s one belt, one road strategy,” Zheshang Securities analyst Zheng Dandan is reported to have told the newspaper.
X-energy Gets DOE Money
The U.S. Department of Energy announced that X-energy has won a $40 million grant to develop the 50 MWe Xe-100 pebble bed High Temperature Gas-Cooled reactor (HTGR). The development grant includes $6M in FY2016, which will be supplemented with additional investor funding from X-energy. The funding focuses on targeted technology development, including core modeling, fuel fabrication, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission outreach.
X-energy – partnering with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to solve design and fuel development challenges of the Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor.
This type of reactor has next generation design and advanced safety features and. at 125 MW, it is also smaller than traditional nuclear reactors. These factors would potentially enable such a reactor to serve a wider array of communities – particularly densely populated areas – while ensuring public safety.
Replacement or Expansion of Coal-Fired Power Plants
In 2015 X Energy, LLC (X-energy), and South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) performed a joint feasibility study to investigate replacement and/or repowering of existing coal-fired power stations with the Xe-100, a pebble-bed High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTGR).
The joint X-energy/SCE&G study team explored two scenarios—station Expansion and station Repowering—for deploying an Xe-100 four-reactor plant within the SCE&G service area. Under the Expansion scenario, an Xe-100 plant would be constructed on unused land at an existing SCE&G coal-fired station to augment the power production capacity of the site.
Under the Repowering scenario, an Xe-100 plant would replace the utility boiler in an existing coal-fired station while maintaining as much of the balance of plant as practicable.
Both scenarios would take advantage of existing infrastructure including connections to the grid, railroad, and surface / water transportation access, etc.
In the Expansion scenario, the study team found that the Xe-100 could provide a technically and economically viable supplement for a coal-fired station based on the following findings:
- Steam temperature and pressure conditions are similar to those of existing coal-fired stations.
- Power output can load follow at attractive ramp rates as low as 25% power, exceeding the existing coal-fired station capabilities.
- The Xe-100 plant occupies as little as 10 acres of land, allowing siting on existing facilities.
- Zero SOX and NOX emissions potentially enables siting near environmentally sensitive areas.
- Zero CO2 emissions allow satisfying state mandates while generating reliable power.
- Installation leverages existing infrastructure, including transmission and distribution, significantly reducing costs and schedule.
- Construction schedule is approximately 24 months, comparable to other power enhancement approaches.
NGNP Plans Prototype Build in 2020s
In the U.S. the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Alliance (NGNP), a business consortium, has selected a conceptual design developed by Areva for a high temperature gas cooled reactor. The alliance estimates that its first prototype could be built in the mid-2020s at a cost of $2.3 billion.
The Alliance says the plant would be competitive with $6 to $10/MMBtu natural gas for process heat and electricity. It would support manufacture of synthetic transportation fuels competitive with oil at ~$70 to $140/bbl.
In 2012 the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) Industry Alliance LLC selected AREVA’s prismatic core, 625 MW thermal, steam cycle modular high temperature gas-cooled reactor (SC-HTGR). It is AREVA’s HTGR Generation IV reactor.
It was selected as the reactor design concept to provide high temperature process steam for industrial applications and electricity production. Entergy Nuclear, as a member of the Alliance, has assumed the role of applicant for the HTGR pre-application and licensing activities for the Alliance.
According to the NGNP Alliance, the benefits of providing high temperature process steam include:
- Main steam temperatures (566C / 1050F) to drive scale industrial processes.
- Stabilized, long term fuel costs for energy intensive industries, enabling sustainable expansion of American industrial manufacturing.
- Reduced greenhouse gases (GHG) through large scale displacement of premium fossil fuels in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. Reduces the use of oil as a fuel to make process steam and frees it up as feedstock to make petrochemical products, plastics, and industrial & agricultural products.
- Job creation within the U.S. supplying materials and equipment to construct and operate HTGR-based industrial infrastructure. The supply chains would rely heavily on U.S. firms with NQA-1 certifications.
According to a 2015 NGNP Industry Alliance Investor Business Plan Overview posted on the organization’s web site, the major markets, and related configurations for the NGNP reactor include;
- Co-generation – Petrochemical, Refinery, Fertilizer/Ammonia plants and others; 75 GWt (125 – 600 MWt modules)
- Oil Sands / Oil Shale Steam, electricity, hydrogen & water treatment (desalinization); 60 GWt (~100 — 600 MWt modules)
- Hydrogen Merchant Market; 36 GWt (60 – 600 MWt modules)
- Synthetic Fuels & Feedstock, Steam, electricity, high temperature fluids, hydrogen; 249 GWt (415 – 600 MWt modules)
In more recent developments in March 2016 the Alliance met with representatives of Poland’s coal industry to look at potential use of the reactor for coal gasification and replacement of coal power stations. The Alliance also reported on its website that it had a good day in Washington, DC, meeting with members of congress and federal agencies interested in its work.
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