Montana Sees an Energy Future in Small Modular Reactors

  • New Lamps for Old. Montana Sees an Energy Future in Small Modular Reactors
  • Canadian SMR Developer Gets $20M boost from New Brunswick Province
  • Brookfield Looks at Option to Cash Out Westinghouse Investment
  • GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Announces Formation of Canadian SMR Business
  • Estonia / Fermi Energia ‘Raising Capital’ To Begin SMR Licensing Process
  • Rolls-Royce on Track for 2030 Delivery of UK SMR
  • Construction License for 1st Gen Russian Fast Reactor

The  state legislature of Montana,  in the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, this week passed Senate Joint Resolution 3 by Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, that would have a legislative interim committee study the possibility of small nuclear reactors. The study needs to be completed by September 2022. At the core of the proposal is a  plan to replace aging coal fired power plants with small modular reactors (SMRs).

The idea is that the boiler and its related equipment at a coal fired plant will be removed leaving behind an electrical switchyard and connection to the grid as well as other infrastructure. The SMR would then be built on the site.

NuScale Power, an Oregon-based company that designs and markets SMRs, testified in support of the legislation.

Gauthier has said SMRs will fit into Colstrip Power Plant’s footprint and the turbines can be fitted with the new reactors. Gauthier said officials should consider building alternate energy generation facilities like solar and wind at the plant site as well that will help keep costs down.

The coal-fueled Colstrip Power Plant started dismantling its Unit 1 and 2 cooling towers in July following a 2016 air pollution lawsuit settlement between its six owners and the Sierra Club in conjunction with the Montana Environmental Information Center.

Units 3 and 4 remain in operation, though four of the power plants’ owners face coal power bans in Washington and Oregon beginning in 2025. A major investor recently withdrew a bid to buy a larger share in the Colstrip coal power plan.

With the looming closure of the coal fired power plant on the horizon, and the potential loss of the electrical power from it, SMRs are looking like a feasible energy solution.

Referendum Requirement to Be Set Aside?

The Helena Independent Record reports that a separate bill would remove a four decade old requirement implemented via a ballot issue by anti-nuclear groups that calls for a referendum on any proposal to build any type of nuclear power plant in the state. Montana voters passed the Montana Empowering Voters to Approve Proposed Nuclear Facilities Initiative in 1978.

House Bill 273, as proposed by Rep. Derek Skees, R- Kalispell, would eliminate having to put the construction of a nuclear facility up to a public vote. Instead, it would require a vote by the state legislature. It passed 8-4 out of a House committee  with four Democrats opposing the bill.

Supporters of nuclear power reactors said in support of HB 273 that nuclear reactors do not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions in comparison to the state’s coal fired power plants. They also said that fears about spent nuclear fuel are unfounded as it can be safely stored in dry casks.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Skees said HB 273 removed the ballot referendum “where such proposals can join the circus of modern media” and still leaves it in the hands of Montana citizens, but through elected officials.

Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings, said nuclear power was the only energy source in Montana that had to jump through such hoops, and she would support Skees’ bill.

Skees said the choices about nuclear power before voters in 1978 are “vastly different” than today and need to come before the legislature again.

Canadian SMR Developer Gets $20M boost from New Brunswick Province

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs used his state of the province speech to announce his government will spend taxpayer dollars to support the development of small modular nuclear reactors in the province.

Higgs announced that the province will grant St. John’s ARC Clean Energy $20 million dollars to support its SMR technology.

“We are convinced that, through this investment, not only will we support the development of local expertise, we will also contribute to creating a critical mass to attract the best talent, which will enable other companies to grow,” Higgs said.

He said the funding “will unlock significant private-sector investment.”

ARC is one of two companies with operations in Saint John hoping to develop and market the technology for small modular nuclear reactors.

Higgs didn’t mention any new money for the other company, Moltex Energy, but said he expects the federal government to announce funding to support its work.

See prior coverage on this blog Argonne’s IFR to Live Again at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick

Brookfield Looks at Option to Cash Out Westinghouse Investment

Canada’s Brookfield Business Partners is considering whether to sell Westinghouse Electric Company, the investment company’s CEO, Cyrus Madon, said in a conference call with analysts on 02/05/21 to discuss its fourth-quarter financial results.

“We are sort of at a little bit of crossroads, because we could sell part of the company or all of the company, I suppose, if we wanted to,” Madon said.

“We could hang onto it and continue milking these incredible cash flows, but it will all come down to what’s the value we can get versus what we can create by keeping it. But at some point in time, we certainly will test the market a little bit and see if we can get a read on market value for the business.”

Madon stressed the “incredible” value of the US reactor vendor. Brookfield’s “initial equity investment” was $920 million for 100% of the business, which is generating a 30% free cash dividend yield.

“Westinghouse truly is a great cash generator,” Madon said. Most of Brookfield’s profitability comes from businesses that “have scale and generate stable cash flows”, he added.

So why sell now? Madon didn’t directly address that question, but a read of his remarks could lead investors to interpret them that Brookfield feels the firm has taken Westinghouse as far as it can in terms of return on investment, and that cashing out now at its peak value is the best path forward.

Brookfield COO Denis Turcotte said Westinghouse “plays a critical role in ensuring the safe and uninterrupted operation of customers’ power facilities.” The majority of the company’s profits come from regularly recurring plant and refueling maintenance outages. He added that despite the COVID19 pandemic, demand for Westinghouse fuel and services have been largely unaffected over the last 12 months, he added.

Turcotte cited Brookfield’s “revamping” of Westinghouse’s technology and closing four acquisitions in the last 18 months that have augmented core engineering and service capabilities especially in the Canadian nuclear energy market which consists of CANDU type reactors.

Brookfield completed its purchase of Westinghouse from Japan’s Toshiba Corporation in August 2018.  The original purchase by Brookfield marked Westinghouse’s exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a restructured company. The firm’s finances collapsed in 2017 due to problems with the failed V C Summer project in South Carolina where it was the EPC for construction of two 1150 MWe AP1000 nuclear reactors.

Westinghouse Notes Progress on SMR Design

Separately,Turcotte  touted Westinghouse’s work on a micro reactor design to provide “competitive power with minimal maintenance.”

See prior coverage on this blog – Westinghouse Launches New SMR Effort

After several earlier false starts, including a complete withdrawal in 2014 from efforts to enter the SMR market, Westinghouse was buoyed with a $12.9 million grant in 2019 from the Department of Energy, is making another go of it. The firm said it will spend $28.9 million to demonstrate the readiness of the technology of its 25-MWe eVinci micro-reactor by 2022. It isn’t clear how much progress the firm has made since then.

The government money, which is covering about half of the costs, will cover costs used toward design, analysis, licensing to manufacture, siting, and testing work.

According to Power Magazine, eVinci’s design is envisioned to operate autonomously. Its reactor core is a solid-steel monolith that features channels for fuel pellets, the moderator (metal hydride), and heat pipes, which are arranged in a hexagonal pattern.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Opens Canadian SMR Business

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has announced the formation of GEH SMR Technologies Canada, Ltd. to support the deployment of the BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in Canada.

Lisa McBride has been named Country Leader, Small Modular Reactors. In this role she will collaborate with Canadian customers, stakeholders, suppliers and partners in GEH’s pursuit to bring the first grid-scale SMR to market by 2028.

McBride brings nearly 18 years of nuclear experience gained in a number of key roles throughout her career in the Canadian energy sector. She is deeply involved in the Canadian nuclear energy industry’s efforts to bring women into the business as technical leaders.

The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s U.S. NRC-certified ESBWR. GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW when compared to other SMR designs.

The firm has made several claims of extraordinary cost savings, but has yet to build a unit that comes in at these numbers. Until it does, the claims have to be taken with a grain of salt.

GEH believes, it can become the lowest-risk, most cost-competitive and quickest to market SMR. It says it can do this by leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification, utilizing the licensed and proven GNF2 fuel design and incorporating proven components and supply chain expertise.

As far as progress in Canada is concerned, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission reports on its website that the BWRX-300 entered into a combined Phase 1 & Phase 2 process for Vendor Design Review in Janaury 2020. It is one of 11 SMR developers participating in the VDR process which is a qualification process that occurs prior to licensing.

canadian smrs

Status of Canadian SMRs in CNSC VDR Process

“As we continue to advance the BWRX-300 we look forward to making future announcements about the Canadian SMR business,” Allen said.

“We continue to make significant progress in advancing the BWRX-300 in Canada and are on track to make additional submittals to the regulator in the coming months as part of the Vendor Design Review of the technology.”

The majority of the engineering work in support of the design and licensing efforts for the BWRX-300 will take place in Wilmington, NC.

However, McBride said in a node to Canadian suppliers that, “We are quickly progressing to further build our local presence by identifying key suppliers and enhancing relationships with stakeholders and communities. She added that a location on Ontario would be the manufacturing hub for a planned fleet of SMRs for domestic customers and possibly export.

Fermi Energia ‘Raising Capital’ To Begin SMR Licensing Process

(NucNet) Declaration signed at virtual conference calls for reactor deployment in Europe by 2030s

Estonian company Fermi Energia is raising capital to start the official planning process for new generation small modular reactor units and has signed a declaration with eight other firms and organizations calling for deployment in Europe by the 2030s.

The declaration calls for “a pragmatic approach” to SMR licensing to overcome licensing and regulatory challenges and reduce SMR project risk relating to nuclear regulation and the licensing process. It says SMR design standardization must be facilitated “to the greatest extent possible”.

The declaration says. “Regulatory frameworks should be based on International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and European Union nuclear safety directives should be implemented.”

SMR host countries should also consider compatibility with relevant vendor and reference plants.

The declaration was signed during a virtual conference on SMR deployment in Estonia by Fermi Energia, Finland’s Fortum, Tractabel of Sweden, Vattenfall of Belgium, Synthos of Poland, the Czech Republic CEZ Group, Nuclearelectrica of Romania, the e-Lise Foundation of the Netherlands and the 18for0 lobby group from Ireland.

The Fermi Energia SMR initiative also involves Finnish energy companies Vattenfall and Fortum and Belgian engineering company Tractebel. For the past year they have been working on a feasibility study into SMR deployment in Estonia.

Fermi Energia said during the conference that it plans a start of the planning process for an SMR in late 2021, with the process expected to take up to five years. The first SMR could be operational in the early 2030s and would be one of the first in Europe and the first commercial nuclear plant in Estonia.

Fermi Energia, established in 2019, has said it is “technology neutral” and is following the licensing process for SMR designs in the US and Canada to see which technologies are suitable. The firm has ono-binding MOUs with half a dozen developers of advanced SMRs, It has not yet selected a design from any of them.

“Estonia has set an ambitious goal to end electricity production from oil shale by 2035,” Fermi chief executive Kalev Kallemets told the conference. “The reactor would solve this challenge for Estonia and is relevant for the wider region.”  Most of the electricity generated in Estonia comes from shale oil.

In a press statement Fermi Energia announced it is seeking Series A funding on Funderbeam to complete their €2,5M series to finance a new generation small modular reactor’s designated spatial planning process in Estonia. Fermi confirmed Bolt founder Martin Villig and Pipedrive founder Martin Henk, as key investors in this round.

Rolls-Royce on track for 2030 delivery of UK SMR

(WNN) Rolls-Royce is nearing completion the feasibility stage in the development of its UK small modular reactor (SMR), In May of this year it will focus on securing investment, its chief technology officer, Paul Stein, said this week. He claimed that the 440 MWe LWR type nuclear reactor design will begin the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process with UK regulators in 2024 and will be ready for customers before the end of he decade.

See prior coverage on this blog:  Rolls-Royce to Focus on Competitive Costs in UK for 440 MWe LWR Nuclear Reactor

Speaking to delegates at the Westminster Energy Forum webinar Materiality of Nuclear for Global Net Zero, Stein highlighted the consortium Rolls-Royce is leading for the UK SMR project. Members includes Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and TWI.

Stein said: “Phase 1 is now coming to an end.  We’re now moving into Phase 2 will which is a joint investment by the UK government, by the consortium members, and now, very importantly, third-party equity is coming in.”

Stein did not provide specifics as to how much government funding would be available or under what policy. He did not name any investors. The UK government has handed out some initial funding to Rolls-Royce and other SMR firms, but not nearly enough to design and build a fleet of them.

Each Rolls-Royce UK SMR will cost GBP1.8 billion (capex) and GBP40-60/MWh over 60 years. The firm says it has plans to build 16 units in the UK which leads to a requirement for capital of GBP288 billion.


Conceptual Image of Rolls-Royce SMR Installation. Image: Rolls-Royce

“By getting the price down to GBP1.8 billion (per unit), it’s very much in the territory now of being able to access private equity to buy and run a reactor, which means we believe that nuclear power can really mushroom in a way that hasn’t been the case for when it’s been a state-funded enterprise,” Stein said.

Beyond its consortium membership, Rolls-Royce recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with US utility Exelon, “which will run the power station and act as the liaison between us and the financing partners.”

Construction License for 1st Gen Russian Fast Reactor

(WNN) Russian regulator Rostechnadzor has issued a construction license to Siberian Chemical Combine at Seversk for a lead-cooled fast neutron reactor, the BREST OD-300. This is a new-generation fast reactor which supersedes Russia’s established sodium-cooled BN 600 and BN 800 fast reactor designs. Lead cooling enables greater utilization of minor actinides from recycled fuel than in BN reactors.

Brest 300

Plans have evolved since 2010 and in 2012 Rosatom announced that a pilot demonstration BREST-300 fast reactor with associated fuel cycle facilities would be built at the Siberian Chemical Combine at Seversk, near Tomsk, 3500 km east of Moscow. The SCC is a subsidiary of TVEL, the nuclear fuel manufacturing subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

See prior coverage on this blog:  Update on Russian Fast Reactor Projects

The project comprises three phases:

  • a mixed uranium-plutonium nitride fuel fabrication/re-fabrication module;
  • a nuclear power plant with BREST OD-300 reactor; and
  • a used nuclear fuel reprocessing module.

It is known as the pilot demonstration energy complex (PDEC) and is a key part of Rosatom’s high-priority ‘Proryv’ (Breakthrough) project to create a new generation of nuclear power technologies on the basis of a closed nuclear fuel cycle using fast neutron reactors.   If BREST is successful as a 300 MWe unit, a 1200 MWe version will follow.

A related facility is the multi-purpose fast neutron research reactor, MBIR. This is a 150 MWt multi-loop reactor under construction since 2015 at the Research Institute for Atomic Reactors at Dimitrovgrad, about 800 km east of Moscow.

It will be capable of testing lead or lead-bismuth and gas coolants as well as sodium, simultaneously in three parallel outside loops. Initially it will have sodium coolant and will run on MOX fuel with high plutonium content. Completion was expected in 2020, but the project was paused after starting construction and commissioning is now expected in 2028.

It is to be part of an international research center at RIAR’s site, with the project open to foreign participation in connection with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO). MBIR will replace the old BOR-60 fast reactor at the site which has been widely used by international researchers since 1969.

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