- US Agency to Fund Nuclear Energy Exports
- India’s First New PHWR Kakrapar 3 Achieves First Criticality
- Czech Government Approves Interest-Free Loan for New Reactor at Dukovany
- Romania / Government Close To Signing Agreement On New Cernavoda Units
- Russia / Reload MOX Fuel Ready for BN-800 Fast Reactor
- HALEU / US Energy Secretary Says Processing Could Begin Next Year
US Agency to Fund Nuclear Enegy Exports
U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced this week a change to its Environmental and Social Policy and Procedures (ESPP). As a result of a brief public consultation, it has changed its policy to fund nuclear power projects.
The announcement follows a 30-day public comment period on the proposed change and external engagement with stakeholders representing Congress, peer U.S. Government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector. DFC received more than 800 responses during the public comment period. It said 98% were in support of the proposed change.
Feedback included support from academics, nuclear experts, industry stakeholders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and bipartisan members of Congress. The feedback will also inform DFC’s implementation of the new policy.
Nonproliferation experts Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolsk writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists sharply criticized the policy. They said that the policy would harm global efforts to control the spread of nuclear materials. The article also criticized the policy in terms of US exports not being economically competitive and that the policy is aimed at achieving foreign policy objectives to blunt the aggressive nuclear energy export efforts of Russia and China.
The DFC’s ‘Environmental and Social Policies and Procedures’ had previously prohibited the agency from investing in the production of, or trade in, nuclear reactors and related components. The US nuclear industry had pushed for the change to the policy on the grounds that it it made it impossible to offer attractive financing options for the export of US reactors and nuclear technology.
The update recognizes the “vast” energy needs of developing countries as well as new and advanced technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs) and microreactors that could be particularly impactful in these markets. However, while press coverage of the policy change has emphasize SMRs, he agency’ is not exclusively wedded to this power rating.
DFC said that modernizing the nuclear energy policy will help deliver a zero-emission, reliable, and secure power source to developing countries in order to promote economic growth and affordable energy access in under-served communities. DFC noted that the change will also offer an alternative to the financing from Russia and China while advancing U.S. nonproliferation safeguards and supporting U.S. nuclear competitiveness.
“Today marks a significant step forward in U.S. efforts to support the energy needs of allies around the world. The change also positions DFC to accelerate growth in developing economies with limited energy resources,” said DFC CEO Adam Boehler.
“We look forward to exploring opportunities to leverage this new capability to deliver affordable, reliable, and emission-free energy where it is needed most. At the same time, these efforts will also advance innovative technologies that adhere to the United States’ high safety, security, and non-proliferation standards.”
“I applaud the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) for moving forward with the implementation of a key recommendation of President Trump’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group Strategy,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.
NEI Supports the New DFC Policy
Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the policy change will enable US nuclear exports to compete on a more level playing field against state-owned entities from countries such as Russia and China, with the potential for multi-billion-dollar growth in exports.
“US nuclear energy companies are poised to offer a broad portfolio of innovative technologies to meet the growing worldwide demand for reliable, carbon-free energy over the next decade.”
Korsnick called for a “consistent, coordinated” US government policy on projects to reassure potential international partners, and she recommended the country adopt the Ex-Im Bank’s existing guidelines – which were designed and implemented in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards – when reviewing applications for nuclear energy projects.
India’s First New PHWR Kakrapar 3
Achieves First Criticality
(WNN) Unit 3 of the Kakrapar nuclear power plant in the Surat district of the Indian state of Gujarat has attained a sustained chain reaction for the first time. It is the country’s first indigenous-designed 700 MW pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) to reach the commissioning milestone. Loading of fuel into the reactor’s core was completed in mid-March.
Kakrapar-3 is a first-of-its-kind indigenous 630MW PHWR unit designed by Indian scientists and engineers. The Department of Atomic Energy said the plant’s components and equipment have been manufactured solely by Indian industries and construction undertaken by Indian contractors.
“Thereafter, many tests and procedures were carried out during the lock down period following all COVID-19 guidelines,” Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) noted in a statement. The reactor achieved first criticality marking a “historic development”.
NPCIL said, “As a next step, various experiments/tests will be conducted and power will be increased progressively. Thereafter it will be connected with the western grid.” The unit is India’s 23rd reactor to enter operation.
Site works at Kakrapar were completed by August 2010. First concrete for Kakrapar 3 and 4 was in November 2010 and March 2011 respectively, after Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) approval. The AERB approved Rajasthan 7 and 8 in August 2010, and site works then began. First concrete for those units was in July 2011. Construction had been expected to take 66 months.
In a 5 March written answer to India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State Jitendra Singh said commissioning of the first of the country’s 700 MW PHWRs, Kakrapar 3, is expected by this October and Kakrapar 4 in September 2021. The 700 MW PHWRs under construction at Rajasthan are expected to be commissioned in March 2022 for unit 7 and 2023 for unit 8.
India plans to put 21 new nuclear power reactors – including 10 indigenous designed PHWRs – with a combined generating capacity of 15,700 MW into operation by 2031.
Czech Government Approves Interest-Free Loan
To Push Down Cost of Planned Nuclear Plant
The Reuters wire service and others English language news media have reported that the Czech government has approved a plan to give an interest-free loan to state-owned utility CEZ to push down the cost of building a new nuclear power station at the Dukovany site that it wants to replace the country’s ageing coal and nuclear plants.
The loan would help the new unit at the existing Dukovany nuclear plant get closer to being easier to finance that with conventional investment plans. The government is reported to be planning to buy power from the 1,200 megawatt unit at a price that reflects recovery of the construction costs. A profit margin would be built into the rates.
A government document seen by Reuters showed the loan aimed to cover 70% of the cost. It would initially be interest free, with 2% interest charged after the unit is brought on line.
The plan needs to win approval from the European Commission to ensure it meets EU state aid rules. Anti-nuclear states like Austria and Germany, which share borders with the Czech Republic, are likely to oppose the plan.
The government and CEZ have said the project could cost about 6 billion euros ($6.9 billion) or about $5,700/Kw which is a reasonable estimate relative to global “overnight costs” for new reactors in western industrialized countries.
Russia’s Rosatom, China’s China General Nuclear Power, France’s EDF, South Korea’s KHNP, U.S group Westinghouse, and a joint venture between France’s Areva and Japan’s Mitsubishi are expected to participate in a CEZ tender to build the plant.
Czech and security officials plan to keep Russian and Chinese firms out of the deal, but the cabinet has insisted on keeping all interested parties involved to try to ensure competitive bids. CEZ is expected to choose the supplier by the end of 2022.
Romania / Government Close To Signing Agreement
for New Cernavoda Units
(NucNet) Development follows cancellation of deal with China’s CGN.
Romania is close to signing an agreement with undisclosed “Euro-Atlantic partners” to complete the third and fourth units at the Cernavoda nuclear power station, prime minister Ludovic Orban announced on July 23 during a visit to the plant.
Romania will invest €8-9 billion to build the two new plants, at 700 MW each. Mr Orban said that if the deal goes through, the plans would be online by 2030. Last month shareholders in Nuclearelectrica approved a new investment strategy for 2020-2025 that included proposals to go ahead with the completion of two new units at the Cernavoda at an estimated cost of €6.45bn. This number is substantially less than the cost estimate cited by Mr. Orban.
“As soon as possible, after we establish a team at government level to explore the best options, we will negotiate and sign agreements to start these fundamental investments for Romania. Earlier this year state-controlled nuclear energy producer Nuclearelectrica terminated an agreement signed with China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) for the construction of Units 3 and 4. The agreement with China had been pending for several years without a sign off by all parties.
Cernavoda has two commercially operational CANSU 6 pressurized heavy water reactors supplied by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd and built under the supervision of a Canadian-Italian consortium of AECL and Ansaldo.
Cancellation of China Deal May Be Due to US Influence
Neither Nuclearelectrica nor the government has said why Romania cancelled the deal with CGN. Press reports in Romania said CGN has been criticized by Romania’s “strategic partners” over security issues tied to the use of Chinese technology. Reports also said there had been “cost concerns” related to the project.
Cooperation between Nuclearelectrica and CGN became uncertain after Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis and US president Donald Trump signed a joint declaration in Washington last year that called for closer cooperation between US and Romania in nuclear energy.
In August 2019 the US added four Chinese nuclear entities to a trade blacklist, accusing them of helping to acquire advanced US technology for military use in China. The four were CGN and its subsidiaries China General Nuclear Power Corporation, China Nuclear Power Technology Research Institute Company and Suzhou Nuclear Power Research Institute Company.
Efforts to resume work on Cernavoda-3 began in 2003. The project has restarted several times only to falter due to the lack of financing. It may be that Romania is looking at changes in the policy of the Development Finance Agency (DFA) which now allow the US government to make loads for export of nuclear technology. A sticking point is that the two partially built nuclear reactors in Romania are PHWRs and no US firm has expertise with this technology. SNC Lavalin, a Canadian firm, is the global supplier of this technology.
On the other hand, it is also possible that Romania just citied US influence as a justification to end the China deal, but also as a bargaining chip to get better terms from European investors.
Reload MOX Fuel Ready for BN-800 Fast Reactor
(WNN) The manufacture of the first full reload batch of uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in Russia has been completed by the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) in Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk region. The 169 fuel assemblies have been accepted by operator Rosenergoatom, and its authorized representative VPO ZAES, which has confirmed the consignment is ready for shipment.
TVEL, the fuel manufacturer subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, will supply the fresh MOX fuel for Beloyarsk 4, providing the shipments throughout the rest of this year. The refueling at the 789 MWe BN-800 reactor is scheduled for January 2021. The shift towards fully loading the BN-800 core with MOX fuel is scheduled for completion in early 2022.
The BN-800 reactor was initially launched with a hybrid core, partially loaded with uranium fuel produced by Elemash, TVEL’s fabrication facility in Elektrostal in the Moscow region, and partially with experimental MOX fuel bundles manufactured at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region. It entered revenue service in 2016.
MCC started serial batch-production of MOX fuel in late 2018. The first serial batch of 18 MOX fuel assemblies was loaded into the reactor’s core in late-2019, and the rest of the fresh fuel were bundles with enriched uranium.
“Starting from the nearest refueling, the BN-800 core will be loaded with fresh MOX fuel,” said Alexander Ugryumov, vice-president for research and development at TVEL.
MCC’s MOX fuel production line – located in a mine 200 meters underground – was built as part of Russia’s ‘Proryv’, or Breakthrough, project to enable a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation.
The BN-800 reactor was connected to the grid in December 2015. The 789 MW reactor entered commercial operation on 31 October 2016.
A U.S. program to produce MOX fuel from weapons-grade plutonium at a site in South Carolina was scrapped in 2018. A plan to produce MOX fuel in Japan has stalled based on management and technical issues.
HALEU / US Energy Secretary Says Processing Could Begin Next Year
(NiuCNet) New fuel type is seen as crucial for next generation reactors
The US Department of Energy is working to end US reliance on Russia for nuclear fuel and plans to begin processing US uranium into high-grade fuel at a DOE facility in Portsmouth, Ohio, as early as next year, energy secretary Dan Brouillette told members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy.
Mr Brouillette said the “high-assay low-enriched uranium”, or HALEU fuel, is particularly important for new and smaller commercial reactors that the DOE considers critical to grid stability as renewables replace aging fossil fuel power plants,
He told lawmakers the DOE has moved centrifuges from its Oak Ridge laboratories to a mothballed uranium processing plant built in the 1950s at Portsmouth, Ohio, and expects to begin processing to produce HALEU next year.
“I think it is absolutely critical that we further develop the front end of the fuel cycle,” Mr Brouillette said. “We have lost our leadership edge in America with regard to the provision of nuclear power. And today… the vast majority of the fuel purchased by the civilian nuclear fleet in the United Sates is primarily from Russia.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) asked the DOE over a year ago to begin a HALEU project as a way to ensure the development of advanced reactors after surveying reactor developers and determining the absence of a high-energy fuel supply could stymie further commercial development.
“The development, demonstration, and deployment of many advanced nuclear technologies is in jeopardy since there is no certainty that a HALEU fuel infrastructure will be in place when they are ready to enter the market,” NEI president and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick, wrote in a letter to the DOE.
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 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%. HALEU has a uranium-235 isotope concentration of up to 20%, giving it several potential technical and economic advantages.
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.
In a 2017 survey of leading US advanced reactor companies, 67% 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 US supplier” was the most frequently cited concern with respect to HAEU.
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