A Big Move Toward Small: Micro-reactors and the Pentagon
The Problem: U.S. military bases in this country and on foreign soil face a unique challenge – the need for 100% uninterrupted access to a working electrical grid. In order to insure tactical readiness of the base, military planners are looking at acquiring very small nuclear reactors to keep the lights on, planes flying, and troops on the move, etc.
DOD manages more than 500 fixed installations and is the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. So, the issue of reliable power is a big one, and could be a big market for the right vendors.
What’s New? The Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is exploring the potential for the deployment of micro-reactors at its defense installations. These reactors could run for years, independent of the grid, to provide secure, reliable power and sustain defense functions, including during an extended blackout. The Nuclear Energy Institute has released a roadmap on what steps are needed for deployment.
- The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) have been interested in the use of small reactors for nearly a decade. Deployment of micro-reactors for DOD could happen in as soon as five to seven years, replace conventional diesel generators or coal boilers with a new source of electricity that would operate independently of the power grid, and run cleanly and quietly for years, with long intervals between re-fuelings.
- These reactors are quite small with military installations likely exploring technology in the one to 10 megawatts-electric range. Many military bases will need multiple micro-reactors. They could desalinate water, generate hydrogen for fuel, and power computer installations. The main challenges are licensing, regulatory and business issues, not technology.
- NEI’s Roadmap for Micro-Reactor Deployment lays out the necessary steps, describes the timeline, and offers recommendations for facilitating micro-reactor deployment for the military.
- NEI anticipates that the reactors would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They would be powered by uranium of a type that the government already has in inventory, although the uranium would have to be processed into the proper fuel form. While the focus of the roadmap is for military use, such reactors would also be useful in small communities off the grid, and in remote mining operations.
NEI’s Marc Nichol, director of new reactor deployment: “Small reactors are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades. Energy is important to our national security; it must be reliable and resilient so that it’s there when our men and women in uniform need it. Micro-reactors can enhance our capabilities by providing that resilient, 24/7 energy.”
DoD’s Troy Warshel, director of operations at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operational Energy: “Ultimately our goal is resilience. And what does resilience mean for the Department of Defense? It means for our critical missions, when we flip the switch – there’s power. We see nuclear energy as a huge potential partner in achieving our resilience goals.”
General Atomics Sets Plans for
Portable 10 MW reactor for military installations
General Atomics is developing a nuclear reactor system designed to fit in a military shipping container for both truck and air deliveries.
The company said in a press release this week that its microreactor program builds on General Atomics’ 60 years of nuclear energy research-and-development experience and uses materials built to protect the system from potential threats.
According to General Atomics, its nuclear power supply technology includes autonomous features that the company has derived from its unmanned aircraft and military hardware offerings.
The system is designed to have a 10-year refueling cycle and produce up to 10 MW of electric power.
General Atomics offered information on the project as the Nuclear Energy Institute published a report that outlines the timeline, challenges and recommendations for the Defense Department to deploy a microreactor at a U.S. military installation.
Opening Opportunities for Development of
Advanced Reactors and SMRs in the U.S.
A recent policy paper by several think tanks “How to Jump-Start a Micro Nuclear Reactor Industry in the US.” says that small and micro reactors could revitalize America’s nuclear sector—with some policy changes. The paper is from The Breakthrough Institute, the R Street Institute and Clearpath. (Full Text PDF file)
The paper’s recommended policy actions include:
- Create new pathways for licensing small reactors through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Congress.
- Allow federal agencies to sign 40-year power-purchase agreements for small nuclear projects.
- Have the DOE commission a fast test reactor that allows the advanced reactor development community to test fuel and materials.
- Reform the Price-Anderson Act by shifting from a dollar-based cap on operator liability to an exposure based limit reflecting current scientific understanding of radiological risk.
- In the longer term, develop a domestic source of high-assay low-enriched uranium, which is used in many advanced reactor designs.
The advanced nuclear industry is full of technical challenges. The nuclear reactor startup Transatomic Power shut down operations, after failing to find a viable path to develop its molten salt reactor design. Se prior coverage on this blog, Transatomic Folds Its Tent ~ Its Leagcy May Live On
For an update on developers of advanced nuclear reactors, including SMRs, see the directory by Third Way published earlier this year.
OTHER NUCLEAR NEWS
India, Russia Sign Civil Nuclear Deal
for Six New Nuclear Reactors
India and Russia, following their 19th edition of the Joint Summit, inked an Action Plan for expanding civil nuclear partnership comprising second site for Russian nuclear reactors in India. The two countries plan to develop a project of six nuclear power units of Russian design at a new site in India.
The Action Plan for Prioritization and Implementation of Cooperation Areas in the Nuclear Field identified jointly by Russia and India was signed by Director General of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom Alexey Likhachev and the Secretary of Department of Atomic Energy and Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Kamlesh Vyas.
According to the document, for the new nuclear project in India Russia will offer six PWR type VVER reactors at 1000 MW electricial and will increase the level of Indian industry’s involvement and localization.
One possible site for six 1000 MW reactors is in Andhra Pradesh. Previously, this site was considered for six Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.
According to a report by World Nuclear News, two Russian-designed V-491 VVER units, of 1000 MWe, are under construction at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, and two V-412 VVER units are already in operation at the site with a third phase of two more reactors planned.
The deal comes with a sidebar agreement that Rosatom will supply the nuclear fuel for the reactors for their expected 60-year operating life. This arrangement reduces pressure on India which is still trying to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to be able to buy nuclear fuel for its planned fleet of PHWRs. See prior coverage on this blog India Doubles Down on Domestic 700 MW PHWR
Western nuclear reactor vendors Areva/EDF and Westinghouse have made little progress inking similar deals because Indian nuclear liability legislation gives reactor manufacturers no protection against claims for damages in case of accidents.
Reuters reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed to cooperate on India’s plan for a manned space mission.
NRC Grants Safety and Design Approvals
for South Korea’s APR1400 Nuclear Reactor
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued safety and design approvals for the Advanced Power Reactor 1400 (APR1400) which is a South Korean nuclear reactor design.
On September 28th the NRC issued a final safety evaluation report and a standard design approval (SDA) for the APR1400. The design is a joint effort of two South Korean state-owned companies Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP).
The NRC pointed out there are still regulatory steps to be completed by the firms. The approval, which indicates the NRC finds the design technically acceptable but does not fully certify the design, is valid for 15 years. Separately, the NRC is preparing a rulemaking to fully certify the design for U.S. use.
“Full certification, if granted by the Commission following the staff’s recommendation, is valid for 15 years and allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a Combined License to build and operate a nuclear power plant,” the NRC noted.
In its press statement the NRC said the SDA means that the NRC’s staff has completed a technical review of the APR1400 design, in accordance with standards for review, but it does not “constitute a commitment to issue a permit, design certification, or license in any way.”
The APR1400 is a two-loop, pressurized water reactor (PWR), which has as its legacy Combustion Engineering’s (now Westinghouse’s) System 80+ design developed for use in South Korea.
The advanced design incorporates a number of modifications and improvements. The updates are intended to address “enhanced safety and economic goals and to address the new licensing issues such as mitigation of severe accidents.”
KHNP said in comments to the news media that the APR1400 has been developed to meet 43 basic design requirements including a 60-year lifetime, and lower probabilities of core damage and accidental radiation release in the event of an incident.
The first of its kind APR1400 entered revenue service in 2018 at Shin Kori 3 inm South Korea. However, the plant had several significant schedule delays due in part to a major problem with counterfeit cables that had to be replaced.
The delay also impacted training of UAE reactor operators who will eventually run the four similar nuclear reactors being built in that country. The startup of the first unit has been delayed by nearly a year due to problems with “safety culture” according to the UAE nuclear safety regulator.
“The resulting projection for the start-up of Unit 1 operations reflects the time required for the plants nuclear operators to complete operational readiness activities and to obtain necessary regulatory approvals,” Nawah Energy Company told Reuters.
The plant is now slated to enter revenue service in late 2019 at the earliest.
Two more APR1400 units in South Korea at Shin Hanul (Units 1 and 2) have had their startup dates pushed back due to construction delays.
Plans for another two units are on hold due to the South Korean government’s fractured energy polices which call for a withdrawal from reliance on nuclear power. South Korea would have to start massive imports of natural gas, most likely from Russia, if shut down its reactors.
According to the World Nuclear Association, South Korea has 24 reactors which provide about one-third of South Korea’s electricity from 23 GWe of plant. Nuclear energy has been a strategic priority for South Korea, but the new president elected in 2017 is aiming to phase it out over some 45 years.
The South Korean companies submitted a design certification application for the APR1400 in 2014. Since then a lot has happened in the U.S. market which suggests South Korea, which took the hugely expensive process to completion, believes there will be a change here that will open up opportunities for it. What that might be isn’t clear.
Several nuclear utilities have “banked” COLs from the NRC, but have no plans to start construction. They include Dominion (ESBWR, N. Anna III), DTE (ESBWR Feri III) and until recently Duke Energy (twin AP1000s) W.S. Lee. No other U.S. nuclear utilities have applications pending with the NRC or plans for them for full size nuclear reactors.
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