Rolls Royce Consortium Plans SMR Units For Existing UK Sites
The firm says that once it has orders for at least five of them, it can deliver each unit for about $2.2 billion. It has plans to build a fleet of them at existing nuclear power stations in the UK starting in the early 2030s.
Update: November 9, 2021 Rolls Royce books USD$546M from investors and UK government grants to take its 470 MWe PWR through the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation Generic Design Assessment. If approved it would allow the reactor to be built at multiple sites (16 units) across the UK.
(NucNet) A consortium headed by British engineering giant Rolls Royce announced this week it expects to develop its first-of-a-kind small modular nuclear reactors in Cumbria, northwest England. The firm has made nuclear reactors for decades that fit inside the UK nuclear submarines and is now adapting that expertise to commercial applications.
Alan Woods, director of strategy and business development at Rolls Royce, told delegates at the Global Reach 2019 event in Manchester, UK, that the company is focusing its efforts on developing small modular reactors (SMRs) at existing licensed nuclear sites – with Cumbria and Wales its top targets.
In July the government said it will invest up to £18m to support the design of the UK-made SMRs. And this week UK Research and Innovation pledged to provide a further £18M, U$D23M, which will be matched by members of the consortium, to progress the project.
The government said in July that the Rolls-Royce consortium had proposed a significant joint investment of more than £500M, U$D640M, focused on designing a first-of-a-kind SMR. In fact the consortium could easily add a third zero to the investor led funding goal given the costs of completing the design, testing and qualifying the fuel, getting the design through the UK GDR, a minimum four year process, and building the First of a kind (FOAK) assuming a customer comes onboard on a timely manner.
The consortium is led by Rolls-Royce, which is responsible for the design, construction and support of the small nuclear power plants that power Britain’s atomic submarines The consortium comprises firms Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear AMRC, Rolls-Royce, Wood and The Welding Institute.
“The consortium expects to more than match any government funding both by direct investment and by raising funds from third-party organisations,” a statement said. However, the firm did not announce a customer for the units. The Rolls Royce consortium aims to have the first working model up-and-running in the early 2030s.
Mr Woods told the conference that despite being at the design stage, Rolls Royce is already considering sites for SMRs.
“They will be built on existing nuclear licensed sites,” he said. “We expect to build them on sites in Wales and particularly in Cumbria. That’s where we’re focusing, that’s where we’ll put our effort.”
“All our focus has been on reducing the capital, absolutely reducing the construction period, and removing risks where we can. It opens the market to much greater potential investors. We have to make them cost competitive.”
The Rolls Royce design is actually larger than what is considered by the IAEA as an SMR. The upper limit by the agency is 300 MW. The Rolls Royce design comes in at 400-450 MW. This makes it more of a mid-size reactor.
It is a three loop, close-coupled, Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) provides a power output at circa 400-450 MWe from 1200- 1350 MWth using industry standard UO2 fuel.
Coolant is circulated via three centrifugal Reactor Coolant Pumps (RCPs) to three corresponding vertical u-tube Steam Generators (SGs). The design includes multiple active and passive safety systems, each with substantial internal redundancy. (See image right)
The target cost for each station is GBP1.8 billion, U$D 2.3 billion, by the time five have been built, with further savings possible, Rolls-Royce said. Each power station will be able to operate for 60 years and provide 440 Mwe of electricity.
Estimates of the cost of smaller SMRs, that is with power ratings of less than 300 MWe, are currently in the range of $4,000 to $5,000 / Kw. A 440 MW plant would therefore cost, using these numbers, between $1.76B and $2.20B which puts the Rolls Roye number in the neighborhood of $5,000/kw.
Next steps for Rolls Royce, once the design is complete, is to enter it in the UK nuclear safety regulatory Generic Design Assessment Process. At the same time, Rolls Royce said, it will begin to develop the supply chain for what it hopes will be a fleet of these types of units.
The GDR can take four years and construction for the FOAK could easily be a three year journey. Best estimate for the first commercial unit being in revenue service would be by the early 2030s. While the firm said it would target existing nuclear sites for the plants, it did not specify any commitments from electric utilities to buy one of the units. Such a commitment would be crucial for gaining investor confidence.
According to World Nuclear News, the concept is that the components for the SMRs would be manufactured in sections in factories across the UK. They would then be taken to their construction sites where they would be quickly assembled within weatherproof canopies.
This approach would allow incremental efficiency savings through the use of standardized and streamlined manufacturing methods for the components. It would also reduce costs by preventing weather disrupting the assembly process. The SMRs would be assembled at existing nuclear sites.
Key UK Business Group Pushes for SMRs and Innovative Financing
The Confederation of Business & Industry (CBI) has weighed in on the need for small modular reactors as a way to replace the UK aging power stations of full size units. The CBI has also demanded progress on using a new way for financing large-scale developments.
At the launch of “The low-carbon 2020s: A decade of delivery” report, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn, said in a statement that the business organization believed a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model “could be the answer” to replacing the UK’s ageing nuclear fleet. And she also called on the Government to identify sites for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and put in place regulatory processes to ensure the technology to be deployed by the 2030.
Ms Fairbairn said “We believe a RAB approach could be the answer — given its potential to reduce risks and costs for investors as well deliver better value to consumers and taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, the CBI report also calls for greater momentum behind SMRs, which it says have the “potential to be cost-effective, innovative contributors to the UK’s energy mix”.
A consultation by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on adapting the RAB model to fund new nuclear came to a close last month. The UK government has been considering it as more conventional financing methods haven’t produced agreements with global vendors to deliver multiple nuclear reactors for a fixed price.
- See prior coverage on this blog – UK Struggles to Keep Moorside Nuclear New Build Alive
- See prior coverage on this blog – A Modest Proposal to Save NuGen’s Moorside Nuclear Project
Industry leaders in Cumbria think using the RAB method will resurrect the potential for a large-scale development to take place at the Moorside site adjacent to Sellafield, after NuGen’s plans for three reactors collapsed in November 2018. Since then plans for nuclear power stations at Wylfa Newydd, Anglesey and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, have also been shelved due to issues over financing them.
In fact, with the exception of Hinkley Point C, which will provide 3,200 Mwe, when complete in the mid-2020s, no other new nuclear project has broken ground in the UK this decade despite a need to build out at least 19 Gwe of nuclear power to replace declining yields from North Sea Oil & Gas and, of equal importance, to to meet decarbonization / climate change goals.
BWX Technologies Developing Microreactors
With Military Customers In Mind
(USNI) BWX Technologies is developing tractor trailer-sized micro nuclear reactors that could illuminate a small U.S. city, run a forward operating military base, power directed energy weapons or fuel deep-space missions.
BWX Technologies – the prime contractor building the reactors on the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers – has for years devoted a portion of its earnings to fund microreactor research and development funding, Rex Geveden, chief executive of BWX, said during a conference call with analysts. Fiscal Year 2020 could be the year micro nuclear reactors move from proposal to reality.
The types of microreactors the military is interested in would generate 5-10 MWe of electricity and a similar amount of thermal power.
BWX Technologies is banking on the military and NASA seeing multiple uses for reactors that can be towed by a truck, loaded on a ship or launched into space. The company is also developing a fuel source that can power these microreactors.
The U.S. Army released a report a year ago detailing the possible uses of mobile nuclear power. The ideal is a power plant system that can fit inside a standard 40-foot shipping container, can be loaded onto a military transport plane or Navy ship, and can generate up to 20 megawatts of power for 10 years or longer without resupply, according to the report.
See prior coverage on this blog – Army RFI for SMRs Could be Boon for Commercial Developers
The Army report also suggests the use of tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel, which is a series of tiny pellets packed into larger fuel assemblies for a reactor. Each TRISO fuel kernel is coated with layers of three isotropic materials that retain the fission products at high temperature while giving the TRISO particle significant structural integrity.
BWX Technologies announced on Oct. 2 it was restarting its existing TRISO nuclear fuel production line to “position the company to meet emergent client interests in Department of Defense microreactors, space reactors and civil advanced reactors.”
“The way we think about these new projects, the space and defense reactors and the fuel and the related work around that, we will as a company will spend some money on R&D to develop a new capability, new technology for these kinds of markets,” Geveden said.
Global Nuclear Fuel and X-energy Announce TRISO Fuel Collaboration
Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) and X-energy announced a collaboration to produce low-cost, high-quality TRi-structural ISOtropic (TRISO) particle nuclear fuel.
The companies have signed a teaming agreement for the purpose of developing High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) TRISO fuel to potentially supply the U.S. Department of Defense for micro-reactors and NASA for its nuclear thermal propulsion requirements.
See prior coverage on this blog – TRISO Fuel Drives Global Development of Advanced Reactors
“TRISO is a robust fuel form well suited for military and space applications,” said Clay Sell, X-energy’s CEO.
“The extremely high and unnecessary cost of working with HALEU in a Category I NRC facility has, in the past, limited TRISO’s economic viability in the marketplace. Utilizing X-energy’s already operational state-of-the-art equipment in GNF’s licensed facility changes the dynamic for TRISO-fueled reactor deployment.”
By leveraging X-energy’s currently operating commercial-scale TRISO production equipment and GNF’s NRC-licensed fuel fabrication facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, the teaming arrangement is expected to produce TRISO fuel of significantly higher quality and at costs that are substantially lower than other potential manufacturers.
TRISO coated fuels start with a uranium kernel, which is coated with three layers of pyrolytic carbon and one layer of silicon carbide. These coatings encapsulate all product radionuclei under all operating conditions.
X-energy is currently manufacturing TRISO particles at a pilot fuel facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Centrus Finalizes Three Year Contract to Demonstrate HALEU Production
Centrus Energy Corp. (NYSE American: LEU) today announced the company has signed a three-year contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to deploy a cascade of centrifuges to demonstrate production of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel for advanced reactors.
The program has been underway since Centrus and DOE signed a preliminary letter agreement on May 31, 2019, which allowed work to begin while the full contract was still being signed off by all parties.
“Our partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and demonstrate a U.S. source of high-assay, low-enriched uranium will help America lead the transition to the next generation of advanced reactors,” said Daniel B. Poneman, president and CEO of Centrus.
Work under the contract will include licensing, constructing, assembling and operating AC100M centrifuge machines and related infrastructure in a cascade formation to produce HALEU at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, for the demonstration program.
HALEU is a component for advanced nuclear reactor fuel that is not commercially available today and may be required for a number of advanced reactor designs currently under development in both the commercial and government sectors.
Existing reactors typically operate on low-enriched uranium (LEU), with the uranium-235 isotope concentration just below 5 percent. HALEU has a uranium-235 isotope concentration of up to 20 percent, giving it several potential technical and economic advantages.
For example, the higher concentration of uranium means that fuel assemblies and reactors can be smaller and reactors will require less frequent refueling. Reactors can also achieve higher “burnup” rates, meaning a smaller volume of fuel will be required overall and less waste will be produced.
HALEU may also be used in the future to fabricate next-generation fuel forms for the existing fleet of reactors in the United States and around the world; these new HALEU-based fuels could bring improved economics and inherent safety features while increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated at existing reactors.
The lack of a U.S. source of HALEU is widely seen as an obstacle to U.S. leadership in the global market for advanced reactors. For example, in a 2017 survey of leading U.S. advanced reactor companies, 67 percent of companies responded that an assured supply of HALEU was either “urgent” or “important” to their company. The survey also showed that “the development of a U.S. supplier” was the most frequently cited concern with respect to HALEU.
INL Gets Green Lights for Spent Fuel R&D from State of Idaho
if Progress is Made with Long Delayed Cleanup of Nuclear Waste at the Site
Idaho Governor Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced that the state of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy have reached an agreement establishing a pathway for small quantities of commercial spent nuclear fuel to come to Idaho National Laboratory for research.
This is a significant change since the State of Idaho had previously refused to allow the spent fuel in any quantity to come to the Idaho lab even for R&D purposes.
Under the framework, INL is granted a one-time waiver to receive 25 commercial power spent nuclear fuel rods – approximately 100 pounds of heavy metal – from the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois. Before this can occur, however, the Department of Energy must begin successfully treating sodium bearing liquid high level waste at INL by turning it into a safer dry, solid state.
Currently, the liquid waste sits in tanks directly above the Snake River Aquifer, while the Department of Energy works to resolve operational problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit.
The Department of Energy has also pledged to allocate at least 55 percent of all future transuranic waste shipments to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility to shipments originating at INL, and to give Idaho priority when additional shipments become available.
This allocation will remain in place until all transuranic waste has been shipped out of Idaho. To date, the Department of Energy has shipped more than 31,500 cubic meters of transuranic waste out of Idaho to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
In exchange for the one-time shipment, the Department of Energy also agreed to remove at least 300 pounds of special nuclear material from Idaho by the end of 2021, and agreed to treat at least 165 pounds of Sodium Bonded EBR II Driver Fuel Pins each year until all pins have been treated – no later than the end of 2028.
A second part of the agreement provides that once the Department of Energy has produced 100 canisters of the dry, treated sodium-bearing high level waste, INL may receive additional research quantities of spent nuclear fuel, per a 2011 Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Energy and the State of Idaho. This can only occur, though, if the high-level waste treatment process is ongoing and the Department of Energy is not in breach of any terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement.
The agreement only allows commercial spent nuclear fuel to be sent to INL in research quantities and does not allow for the Department of Energy to bring any other type of fuel to Idaho for storage purposes. Any commercial research fuel brought to INL is subject to language in the original 1995 agreement that requires all Department of Energy spent nuclear fuel to be shipped out of Idaho by 2035. The cap on all Department of Energy nuclear waste in Idaho established in the 1995 Settlement Agreement also remains in place.
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