Nuclear News Roundup for August 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • US Espionage Case and the Hualong One

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Nuclear Firm Wins Option to Bid on UK SMRs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEO Of GEH Calls For Support For Advanced Reactor Designs

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa Wants 50% Local Content For New Nuclear Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey’s Akkuyu NPP to be fast tracked

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

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

Companies move forward on nuclear waste storage in Carlsbad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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