South Korea Boosts Efforts for Nuclear Reactor Exports

  • exportsSeveral South Korean firms are pursuing opportunities in the UK, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
  • The export push builds on progress building four 1400 MW PWR type reactors in the United Arab Emirates  (UAE)
  • Meanwhile the South Korean government is not backing down from its plans to phase out nuclear energy at home which could hobble the supply chains and decimate the work force needed to support the exports.

In a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, South Korea appears to have developed a split personality when it comes to nuclear energy.  On one hand the ongoing effort to build four new reactors in the UAE has given South Korean firms new ambitions to export commercial nuclear reactor technologies.  On the other hand, the stewardship of President Chung Jae-hoon, who took office in April, seems obsessed with his plan to cut the use of nuclear energy while boosting imports of LNG and coal.

It is a no brainer that potential customers of South Korean nuclear firms will want to know that they will be able to support their products for the expected 60 year operating lives of the plants. That confidence is being eroded by the South Korean government which doesn’t seem to want to recognize the conflict it is creating with its policies.  Here are some recent developments.

South Korea Holds Meeting
To Prepare Saudi Arabia Nuclear Project Bid

(NucNet): The South Korean ministry of trade, industry and energy has held a meeting with two state utility firms – Korea Electric Power Corporation and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power – and other nuclear trade organizations to establish a strategy to secure a deal for Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power project, according to reports by the Yonhap news agency.

The RFP by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) calls for two PWR type reactors with power range of at least 1000 MW.  KSA is in the process of selecting finalists from five nations – the US, China, Russia, France and South Korea.

In May 2018, Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih told journalists at an industry event in Seoul that South Korea could expect a “good result” when asked about the outcome of bidding on the project. Here are some reasons why his statement holds water.

Westinghouse is unlikely to win KSA’s business supplying nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia even if the Trump administration relaxes the terms of a 123 Agreement. The reasons are that South Korea has the pole position due to several factors including; success with building four 1400 MW reactors for the UAE at a fixed price, an experienced workforce with a management team that speaks Arabic, and the fact that the 1400 MW design has already been built and operated in South Korea.

The ROK / KSA deal for 100 MW SMART Reactor could be a model for U.S. A deal inked in 2011 between ROK and KSA could be seen as a model to form the basis for an agreement for U.S. firms to export nuclear technology to KSA.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has signed an $1 billion agreement with South Korea to build a 300 MWt PWR reactor. The SMART reactor has a design that uses integral steam generators and advanced safety features. The reactor will have a 60 year design life and a three-year refueling cycle It will be used to generate electricity and to power reverse osmosis desalinization plants at coastal sites. The reactor will generate 100 MW of electrical power for these applications. Bottom line South Korea is already doing nuclear business with KSA.

Korea Hydro Nuclear Power Accelerates Bid
to Export Nuclear Power Abroad On Its Own

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) is accelerating efforts to export nuclear power plants abroad on its own. In early July KHNP met with President Cosmin Ghita of the state-owned energy producer Nuclearelectrica of Romania in Gyeongju to discuss KHNP’s participation in a plan to build a nuclear power plant in Cernavoda, Romania.

KHNP has already joined on bid to construct one or two 1GW nuclear power units in the Czech Republic. There it is facing stiff competition from Rosatom, which considers the Czech Republic to be a captive market.

But there is also competition in Romania. China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) has already inked an agreement with Romania to build two CANDU type reactors at the site. Romania has built two of a planned cluster of five reactors. The first two units are also CANDU types. Hypothetically, KHNP would be a bidder for the 5th unit.

President Ghita came to South Korea to participate in a university program tailored towards “world nuclear power next-generation manpower development,” which was jointly hosted by KHNP and World Nuclear University.

Separately, KEPCO is in protracted negotiations with Japan’s Toshiba to take over a major nuclear new build in the UK. The UK government’s dithering over whether to take an equity stake in a turnkey effort at for the Moorside nuclear project has generated a raft of problems for it.

The government, which knows it must build the new new reactors, seems to be at sea over coming to terms about how to finance the effort. The biggest issue is that Toshiba has yanked KEPCO’s preferred status as a bidder for the project. Meanwhile, KEPCO’s 1400 MW PWR type reference design is making its way through the UK generic design review process.

Second Meeting for US-Korea High Level Commission

(WNN) Senior delegates from South Korea and the US met on August 16th in Washington DC, in the second plenary meeting of the High Level Bilateral Commission (HLBC) of the two countries.

The HLBC was launched in 2016 to facilitate strategic dialogue and technical exchanges on peaceful nuclear cooperation, as required under their 2015 bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. The August meeting, which was co-chaired by US Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun, was also the first following the inauguration of the countries’ respective administrations.

Brouillette and Cho discussed the management of used nuclear fuel, reliability in the nuclear fuel market, exports and export control cooperation, and nuclear security and non-proliferation.

They also agreed on future joint technical activities in each of these areas, including a decision to hold follow-up consultations on ways to cooperate in exporting nuclear power plants to third countries. South Korea updated its 123 Agreement with the US in January 2017.

Other Nuclear News of Note

Horizon Appoints Bechtel
As Project Management Contractor
For Wylfa Newydd Nuclear Station

(NucNet): Horizon Nuclear Power announced last week it has appointed US-based engineering and construction company Bechtel as project management contractor for its proposed Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on the Isle of Anglesey, north Wales. The company said that media reports earlier this month it had withdrawn from the project were incorrect.

Horizon has also signed further contracts with Hitachi Nuclear Energy Europe and JGC New Energy UK Limited to continue to provide support during the project’s development stage.

Hitachi subsidiary Hitachi Nuclear Energy Europe will supply two 1350 MW UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors, or UK ABWRs, for the new Wylfa Newydd units, to be built next to the existing Wylfa A nuclear station. UK-based JGC will continue to provide specialist engineering contractor services.

The company is developing plans to build at least 5,800 MW of new nuclear power generation plant at Wylfa (2700 MW) and at Oldbury-on-Severn (3100 MW) in Gloucestershire, England.

Horizon Calls Media’s £20bn Cost Estimate
For Wylfa Newydd Units Is ‘Just Guesswork’

(NucNet): Horizon Nuclear Power said it has not released an official estimate for the cost of two planned UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors for the Wylfa Newydd nuclear station in north Wales and that a figure of £20bn quoted by many media outlets is “just guesswork”.

A spokesman for Horizon told NucNet in an email that the company is still in the process of building up a cost estimate through supply chain engagement, analysis of site development costs, and analysis of the project’s financing and funding structure and its impact on the cost of capital.

“There have been various figures touted in the media but they are, essentially, just guesswork,” the email said. It added that the £20bn figure quoted for the two Wylfa Newydd units will be “too high.”

NRC Adjusts Safety and Siting Rules for Small Modular Reactors

(WNN) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has agreed that small reactors do not require the same extensive emergency planning zones (EPZs) around them as large units, and that today’s 16-km zones for large units could safely be scaled down.

The safety features and small amount of fuel in small reactors mean they can occupy a small footprint, with the EPZ effectively the site boundary. This is consistent with the basis used to determine the EPZ for large reactors and has the potential to greatly simplify the licensing of these technologies and decrease their costs.

“This rulemaking is consistent with direction from Congress, which has been encouraging the agency to modernize its regulatory framework to facilitate the licensing of these new technologies, particularly through recognition of their enhanced safety features,“ said Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) Technical Advisor David Young in a press statement.

The preliminary finding was made public in the NRC staff evaluation of an early site permit application for a potential nuclear plant at TVA’s Clinch River site in Tennessee. The plant would comprise multiple small modular reactors (SMRs) such as BWXT’s mPower, Holtec SMR-160, NuScale’s SMR and Westinghouse SMR, ranging in size from 50 to 225 MWe. TVA has not expressed a preference for any of the designs in its ESP application to the NRC.

Detailed information was provided on the NuScale SMR, for which a 12,000-page design certification application has been under review by NRC for 18 months.

NRC Holds First Public Meeting for X-energy’s
Proposed TRISO Fuel Facility

X-energy held its first public meeting with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff on August 24, 2018, to discuss its proposed TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility. The purpose of the meeting was to familiarize the NRC staff and the public with the TRISO-X fuel fabrication process and discuss plans to prepare a fuel fabrication facility license application for NRC review and approval.

X-energy submitted a Regulatory Engagement Plan to the NRC’s Nuclear Materials and Safety Safeguards Office on August 8, 2018, defining the pre-application engagement topics relevant to TRISO-X.

This public meeting is the first in a series of meetings planned with the NRC. Dr. Pete Pappano, X-energy’s Vice President of Fuel Production, stated:

“Advanced nuclear reactors are the future of nuclear power. The availability of high assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel and a U.S.-based production line are critical elements for advanced reactor deployment. Our TRISO-X facility will produce fuel for these advanced reactors and potentially accident tolerant fuel (ATF) for the fleet of existing light water reactors (LWRs).”

Dr. Pappano serves as Principal Investigator of X-energy’s two U.S. Department of Energy Cooperative Agreements; one that includes TRISO fuel manufacturing research and another for the design and license application development of the TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility.

Tristructural Isotropic (TRISO) coated fuels start with a uranium kernel, which is coated with layers of pyrolytic carbon and silicon carbide.

X-Energy is working with Southern Nuclear to develop a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR). The project involves significant financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy to both firms.

Terra Power Project with Southern Company

Separately, TerraPower and Southern Company are in the early stages of the design phase of a molten salt reactor. They are working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University and the Electric Power Research Institute to assess the viability of a MCFR as a commercial reactor.

They expect to begin testing in a $20 million test loop facility starting in 2019. The team is also scaling up their salt manufacturing process for testing in the loop. Data generated from the test loop will be used to validate thermal hydraulics and safety analysis codes for licensing of the reactor.

After testing, Southern Company and TerraPower plan to develop and license a test reactor before developing a 1,100-megawatt prototype reactor by 2030.

NRC Accepts License Application
from Interim Storage Partners for West Texas Site

  • NRC accepts license application for used nuclear fuel consolidated interim storage facility in West Texas
  • Safety, security and environmental reviews of Interim Storage Partners’ application expected to be completed in August 2020

Interim Storage Partners received confirmation from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that ISP’s revised license application for a consolidated interim storage facility provides sufficient information for the NRC to resume its detailed review for approval.

ISP, a joint venture of Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists, submitted a revised application on June 8, 2018, to construct and operate a CISF for used nuclear fuel at the existing WCS storage site in Andrews County, Texas. The original CISF license application was submitted April 2016 and docketed by the NRC for review in January 2017 (Docket No. 72-1050).

“As noted in the NRC’s letter, we are pleased that the quality of our submission met the NRC’s review requirements, including our initial safety analysis and environmental reports,” said Jeff Isakson, ISP president.

The revised application reflects the organization of the joint venture along with new leadership, but remains unchanged in its original proposal to securely receive, store and safely manage used nuclear fuel from shutdown U.S. nuclear reactors at a planned facility built on the existing 14,900-acre WCS low-level waste storage site.

In its application, ISP proposes an initial 40-year license to consolidate and store an eventual total of 40,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel, developed over eight flexible phases. The CISF will securely store the used nuclear fuel with the same proven storage technology and commitment to safety demonstrated by Orano and NAC International at storage installations currently in place and reliably operating at reactor sites across the United States.

South Africa Puts Plans For New Nuclear Reactors On Ice

(Reuters) South Africa has cancelled plans to add 9,600 megawatts (MW) of nuclear power by 2030 and will instead aim to add more capacity in natural gas, wind and other energy sources, the energy minister announced this week.

There are now “no plans to increase nuclear until 2030,” Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said while releasing the government’s new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The plan also showed that electricity demand on the grid has been declining.

“There will be a study to determine if more nuclear is needed after 2030,” Energy Minister Jeff Radebe told the Bloomberg Wire Service. “But until then, there is no increase in nuclear generation envisaged.”

Russian state-owned firm Rosatom was seen as a frontrunner to build the additional nuclear capacity. Several meetings in 2014 and 2015 between Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin led to a media firestorm over reports that Rosatom had inked the deal before the launch of the public tender.

However, after taking over from Zuma in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa put the nuclear expansion on the back burner saying the plan was too expensive.

The Bloomberg Wire Service also reported that one of the key reasons is the South Africa’s power demand has declined and is currently at levels last seen more than a decade ago, according to the energy department. Electricity being consumed is about 30 percent less than projections used in the 2010 plan.

Nuclear Energy Expert Critical of Nation’s Retreat

(South Africa Business Report) South African Nuclear Energy Corporation chairperson Dr Kelvin Kemm said nuclear energy was the solution to the country’s energy crisis. He said current demand for electricity was not rising, because the government prevented an expansion of the sector when the country ran out of electricity in 2007.

Kemm, who is also chief executive of Nuclear Africa, said the rolling blackouts, also known as load shedding, were bad for business. Load shedding reportedly cost the economy about R80bn a month in 2015.

Kemm poked holes in the IRP, saying that the projected 41 percent contribution to the grid by solar, wind and gas was laughable.

“The country doesn’t have gas, and wind and solar are unreliable. Look, solar is only available at lunchtime. At night you have nothing,” he said. “By contrast a nuclear power station is always sitting at 100 percent”.

He said if the country pursued nuclear energy, lots of job opportunities could be created.

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