- Despite the apparent collapse of the market for new, 1000 MW+ conventional light water nuclear reactors in the US, proposals to build them in Europe are still on the table.
- Plans to swap out coal plants for large, conventional 700-1000 MW nuclear power stations continue to get attention from key decision makers in Finland, France, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria.
- The key problem is financing. None of these nations want to take debt as a means of financing their new builds. Others want to postpone payments for the projects until the completed reactors start generating electricity and can pay for themselves.
- The problem for almost all of the countries involved is that the high cost of upfront capital to build the plants is the financial equivalent of a big fish in a small bowl.
- The financing problem is so acute that it suggests the need for a European nuclear energy investment bank, and, maybe even a regional grid to wheel power across national borders. These multi-lateral cooperation agreements would be confidence builders for investors
Finland Grants Operating License to Olkiluoto-3 EPR
(NucNet): The Finnish government granted an operating license for Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima Oyj’ (TVO) to start up Olkiluoto-3 EPR nuclear power unit, which is nearing completion in the municipality of Eurajoki in southwest Finland.. TVO said the fixed-term licence for the 1,600-MW unit is good for 20 years until 2038.
The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk) said its assessment was based on a comprehensive safety review. Stuk said it has assessed the technical and structural safety of the plant and the ability of TVO and its employees to run the plant safely.
TVO will still need separate permission from Stuk for the loading of nuclear fuel. One issue to be resolved before fuel loading is to eliminate vibrations in the pressurizer surge line, which is part of the reactor coolant system. The vibrations were detected during recent commissioning tests.
“Stuk will inspect the plans for the solution presented by TVO, and will oversee the work and verify that the modifications have been completed and the effectiveness of the solution tested before fuel loading,” TVO said.
TVO did not set a date for the start of Olkiluoto-3’s operation in revenue service, but according to a schedule provided by Stuk last month, the plant is expected to deliver electricity to the national grid for the first time in 2020. Fuel loading is expected by the end of 2019.
In France Normandy Puts Itself Forward
As Candidate Site For New Generation Of EPRs
(NucNet): The Normandy region of France has put itself forward as a candidate site for the construction of a new generation of French EPR nuclear power units, Paris-based nuclear society SFEN said.
SFEN said Hervé Morin, president of the Normandy region, and Jean-Bernard Lévy, president of state-owned utility and nuclear operator EDF, had officially put forward the region as a site for two new EPRs, known as the EPR 2.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last month the country will decide around 2022 whether EDF will be allowed to build new nuclear reactors.
He said the EPR must be part of a package of technological options for tomorrow and France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors. Mr Macron said France needed its EPR technology “for sovereignty issues” and said the government and EDF will work together on “the issues of industrial capacity” of the [nuclear] sector.
France has indicated it will shut down up to a half a dozen older, smaller reactors by 2023. and increase the total to 14 units by 2035.
The Flamanville-3 EPR plant under construction in Normandy is the first of its kind in France, but has seen cost overruns and schedule delays. Hot testing at the plant, previously scheduled to start by the end of 2018, is now scheduled to begin sometime this winter. Fuel loading is expected to take place later this year.
Faulty welding discovered last year forced EDF to delay the start-up date for the 1,600-MW Generation III plant to the second quarter of 2020. The cost of the project increased to to €10.5bn and then to €10.9bn (USD$12.14B)
SFEN said that in the long term, between 2030 and 2050, France is planning to renew part of its current nuclear fleet with new units. A study is to be carried out by mid-2021 to define a new-build program that will lead to a reduction in costs, SFEN said.
According to EDF one of the aims of the EPR 2 project is to increase competitiveness. “The goal of the EPR 2 project is to have a competitive model on the new production means market by 2030,” the company said.
Czech PM Calls On CEZ To Speed Up Tender For New Nuclear
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told state-controlled CEZ, which owns the country’s nuclear power stations, to speed up work on preparing a tender for the construction of new rector units, reports said.
In a televised speech in parliament, Mr Babiš said CEZ should obtain a construction permit and organize a tender. He said this would be the first phase of plans to build at least one new unit at the Dukovany nuclear site and possibly three more either at Dukovany or Temelín. An earlier tender for up to five units was cancelled in 2014 due to a confused procurement process, a refusal of the government at that time to offer rate guarantees, the and lack of investors that resulted from that decision.
The government and CEZ, which is 70% owned by the state, have been discussing possible methods of financing the construction of new units. CEZ has said it will not invest in new nuclear without some form of state support.
This situation does not appear to have improved since then. The Czech Republic is unlikely to hold a tender to build new nuclear power reactors this year because the financing structure has still not been decided, industry minister Marta Novakova said just prior to the PM’s speech.
“If we take into consideration what lies ahead of us, then I personally think that it is not entirely realistic this year, that means to have the tender launched,” Ms Novakova said in a debate aired by public Czech Television.
“The question of state support will be quite significant. It will have to be part of the tender,” she said.
The main problem CEZ faces is lawsuits from minority investors who fear the risk of cost overruns. The solution to the problem, which is well understood by the Czech government, is to buy out the minority investors and make the project a 100% government funded effort.
The country’s energy strategy assumes that the four units, which began commercial operation from 1985 to 1987, will be closed by 2035.
Romania Still Planning For New Nuclear Power Plants
(NucNet): Romania is planning to develop energy production capacity with low greenhouse gas emissions, including new nuclear power plants, the government has said in its draft national energy and climate plan.
The plan also says Romania wants to develop technologies for advanced Generation IV reactors and develop the infrastructure for lead-cooled fast reactors “through European and international partnerships.”
According to the profile of Romania’s nuclear program by the World Nuclear Association, an R&D effort along this lines was announced in 2013. The Advanced Lead Fast Reactor European Demonstrator (ALFRED project), according to its website, is still in a basic R&D project phase.
In November 2015, Romania’s nuclear operator Nuclearelectrica signed a memorandum of understanding with and China General Nuclear Power Corporation for two new units at the Cernavoda nuclear station. Negotiations on an investors’ agreement are incomplete. These units would be similar the to two CANDU 6 PHWR that are already in operation in Romania.
Romania’s plan is online: https://bit.ly/2UMyKWs
Bulgaria Pushes Ahead with Plan to Revive Belene Nuclear Project
(NucNet): Bulgaria will maintain the role of nuclear power in its energy mix by 2030 with the eventual construction of new units at Belene expected to increase energy security, the government’s draft national energy and climate plan says.
According to the plan, the proposed construction of the 2,000-MW Belene nuclear station in northern Bulgaria is expected to increase energy security for Bulgaria and its region.
In 2008, Bulgaria ordered the design, construction and commissioning of two Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor units for Belene. The project was cancelled in 2012 because of financial and political considerations.
Bulgaria is now looking for investors after plans were revived in June 2018. If construction of Belene goes ahead, plans are in place for expanding the national 400kV transmission grid.
According to a report by NucNet Bulgaria wants to build the two-unit Belene nuclear power station within 10 years and at a cost of up to €10bn, Bulgarian energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova told a parliamentary hearing last December.
Ms Petkova said she believes that building the two-unit station is “realistic.” This characterization may be open to question.
The government’s policy to attract private investment for the project, subject to there being no state guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts, remains unchanged, Ms Petkova said.
In short, the country wants any vendor to self-finance the project, which is an enormous and essentially untenable risk. Bulgaria may eventually realize it has to put up some of the cash to pay for the project if it expects investors to come to the table.
Ms Petkova said the procedure to select an investor for Belene is ready and will start in early 2019, with the aim of completing it by the year’s end. Earlier reports quoted the minister as saying that the procedure was to start by the end of 2018.
Poland Wants to Avoid Financing Nuclear Power with Debt
(Reuters) – Poland is reluctant to finance the construction of nuclear power stations with debt and hopes to continue talks about the project with the United States, Piotr Naimski, the government official responsible for key energy infrastructure, told the wire service.
Reuters reported that the energy ministry plan to have a total of 6-9 GW of nuclear power by 2043 surprised analysts and came shortly after U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Poland. Warsaw and Washington signed a declaration on enhanced energy security cooperation, including nuclear power.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Poland in late 2018 as part of an effort to get that country to buy LNG from the US.
While Perry also talked about nuclear energy with his Polish counterparts, it isn’t clear he offered either financing or technical assistance to them for new reactors. Poland’s version of a 123 Agreement with the US is rolled into a European Atomic Energy Community agreement (Euratom) that is renewed every five years.
It is also unclear whether any US nuclear vendors are in talks with Poland for building new nuclear reactors. Over the past decade almost all of Poland’s contracts for nuclear energy feasibility and safety studies have been with European engineering firms. Absent a financial plan from Poland, no US publicly traded firm is going to enter into serious negotiations for a deal.
According to the World Nuclear Association profile of Poland, the Ministry of Economy set out a new nuclear power program in 2012. The Polish Energy Ministry estimated then that the cost would be €2500-3000/kW for a modern plant. The total project cost would be an estimated €10.5 billion or about $USD 12 billion for two units.
It estimated the cost of generating electricity from nuclear power plants at between €6.5 and €6.8 cents per kWh, which “justifies construction of plants under most scenarios.
“I can say one thing – the financing model should be based on capital and not debt,” Naimski told Reuters, adding that he would like the financing structure to be worked out in the coming year. It would need to include rate guarantees and a term sheet for equity investments since debt deals are off the table.
The energy ministry said it expects its first nuclear power station to start operating in 2033. A long-term strategy that cites that date, published in November, still needs government approval.
- Role for HTGRS?
Deployment of high-temperature reactors (HTRs) for industrial heat production is included in the government’s energy plans. The Ministry of Energy has estimated that using nuclear high temperature heat for industrial applications could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 14-17 millions tonnes per year in Poland, which has 13 large chemical plants that need 6500 MWt at 400-550°C.
The government plans to build a cogeneration HTR of 200-350 MWt for process heat. An early effort is reported to include a 10 MWt experimental HTR at Swierk. Japan has recently inked an MOU with Poland to participate in that project although it does not have an HTGR design ready for export.
Hungary to Modify Funding for Russian-built Nuclear Plant
(Reuters) Hungary is working to modify financing for a nuclear plant being built by Russia so it only starts repaying the loan once the two reactors begin supplying power, a Hungarian minister said, after an EU review of the plans contributed to delays in the project.
Hungary awarded Russia’s state-owned Rosatom a contract to build a 2000MWe plant to replace the existing one. However, the project has been embroiled in disputes with the European Union over the way it is to be funded leading to delays.
“Once we know the deadlines for the technical contract, we will modify this (financing) contract,” said Janos Suli, the minister in charge of the project, adding that this would meet procedures set by the EU executive.
“We will begin repaying installments once the blocks begin production,” he said. “There is no damage, no extra payment involved, only a rescheduling of the financial payments.”
Under the deal, Moscow will build two reactors to supply the capacity and offered a 10 billion euro ($11.3 billion) state loan to help finance the project. This would cover about 85% of the cost.
After parliament voted to build new nuclear capacity in 2009, Prime Minister Viktor Orban bypassed releasing an international tender for bidder response and signed a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a practical mater Russia consider Hungary to be a captive market being a former Communist block nation who’s current prime minister has forged close ties with Russia.
The move drew intense international criticism, especially from the United States, which is concerned about Central and Eastern Europe’s heavy reliance on Russian energy sources.
~ Other Nuclear News ~
US Nuclear Industry Praises ‘Vital Step’’
Towards Resolving Ex-Im Bank Impasse
The US Senate banking committee’s approval of four nominees to the Export-Import Bank is a vital step towards restoring the bank to full functionality and boosting the competitiveness of US exports – particularly in the global market for nuclear energy hardware and services, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute said in a press statement.
“As the official export credit agency of the United States, the Ex-Im Bank provides loans, loan guarantees and other forms of financial assistance to the foreign customers of US exporters to help the sale of American goods and services,” the NEI said.
“A competitive credit agency is absolutely necessary for US companies to win bids for international nuclear power plant contracts.”
In 2015, the US inflicted “massive harm” on its own industry by failing to confirm new directors to the Ex-Im Bank’s board, thus bringing its operations to a halt. The Ex-Im Bank has lacked a quorum on its board of directors, preventing it from approving transactions valued over $10m.
The NEI said while the Ex-Im Bank has been neglected, other nations, including Russian and China, have used generous export finance methods to gain global market share.
Conservative members of congress had labeled the bank a form of “corporate welfare.” Boeing and GE, two of the primary beneficiaries of the Ex-Im bank’s operations, retaliated by cutting off campaign contributions to the re-election of 17 members of congress. The tide turned in December 2017 when the Republican led Senate Banking Committee rejected a Trump nominee as chairman who had once pledged to shut down the agency.
NEI called on the Senate to hold a vote without delay to confirm the president’s rour nominees to the Ex-Im Bank board of directors. The bank’s charter also comes up for reauthorization this year which may reopen some of the earlier industry disputes.
Terrestrial Energy Named in Bill Gates’
List of Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2019
MIT Technology Review this month published its annual list of technologies that will “change the world for the better.” This year’s top 10 list was curated by Bill Gates and includes “new-wave nuclear power,” which spans advanced fission and fusion technologies.
Terrestrial Energy’s advanced fission Generation IV IMSR technology has been cited as one of the “key players,” along with TerraPower which is developing another Generation IV technology.
“Narrowing down the list was difficult,” writes Mr. Gates in an introductory essay. “I wanted to choose things that not only will create headlines in 2019 but captured this moment in technological history…Advanced nuclear reactors could provide carbon-free, safe, secure energy to the world.”
Advanced nuclear reactor designs are “promising to make this power source safer and cheaper,” reads the cover story in the magazine’s March/April edition.
“Developers of Generation IV fission designs, such as Canada’s Terrestrial Energy…have entered into R&D partnerships with utilities, aiming for grid supply by the 2020s.”
A related article in MIT Technology Review discusses the promise of new advanced nuclear technologies to combat climate change and describes the potential of molten salt designs.
“Canadian company Terrestrial Energy plans to build a 190 MW plant in Ontario, with its first reactors producing power before 2030,” notes writer Leigh Phillips.
X-energy Dedicates TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Pilot Line at ORNL
X-energy announced the dedication of its TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Pilot Line located at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The ceremony was attended by X-energy and ORNL leadership and included remarks from Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN, District 3).
Rep. Fleischmann said, “The development and production of fuel is an essential step to the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors.”
He added that the the pilot facility, which is a partnership between DOE and X-energy, will help to move to market for advanced reactors.
The HALEU Demonstration Program will culminate in the production of 19.75% enriched uranium using U.S.-designed and operated advanced centrifuge technology. To deploy Generation IV reactors, many of the designs require a stable and reliable source of fuel utilizing HALEU. X-energy’s Xe-100 design, a high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactor will employ 15.5% U235 enriched uranium.
The announcement integrates with X-energy’s plan to design, license, and construct the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility (FFF). It will be a cross-cutting facility capable of supplying numerous advanced reactor designs with fuel.
X-energy has initiated preliminary design and pre-application activities with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with plans for an operational facility in the 2023-2024 timeframe.
The TRISO-X Pilot Line enables X-energy to manufacture TRISO fuel forms using HALEU. It will produce fuel that will begin qualification irradiation testing by early 2020.
“Advanced nuclear reactors are the future of nuclear power and X-energy’s objective is to be the leading TRISO fuel fabricator in the U.S. and globally,” said X-energy’s Chief Executive Officer J. Clay Sell.
“The availability of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel and a U.S.-based production line for HALEU-based fuel forms are critical elements for advanced reactor deployment. Our next stage is to complete the commercial TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility, which will produce fuel for these advanced reactors – serving commercial, government and U.S. Department of Defense applications.”
HALEU fuel is believed to be a key element of a DOD plan to procure very small transportable reactors to insure tactical readiness in terms of electricity supply at forward bases.
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