- Ultra Safe Nuclear to Build FOAK HTGR at U. Illinois
- Ultra Safe Makes Progress in Canada
- NuScale Power Secures Investment from South Korea’s GS Energy
- DOE Invests $61 Million in Advanced Nuclear Energy R&D Projects
Ultra Safe Nuclear to Build FOAK HTGR at U. Illinois
In the latest in public private partnerships for an advanced nuclear reactor design, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has submitted a Letter of Intent to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to apply for a license to construct an Ultra Safe Nuclear HTGR research and test reactor facility on the UIUC campus. The submission of the Letter of Intent is the first step in NRC’s two-step Part 50 process to license a new reactor. The letter indicates that the University of Illinois intends to submit an application for a test reactor which is different than for a reactor intended to be used for production of electricity.
The University’s Grainger College of Engineering (and its Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering), in collaboration with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), is spearheading the new reactor deployment effort.
The university says it plans to partially re-power its fossil fuel fired Abbott power station with the Ultra Safe Nuclear Micro Modular Reactor (MMRTM) Energy System, providing a zero-carbon demonstration of district heat and power to campus buildings as part of its green campus initiative. This proposal for a dual role for the reactor as both a test and as a production plant may complicate its licensing path forward.
The project team aims to demonstrate how microreactor systems integrate with existing fossil fuel infrastructure to accelerate the decarbonization of existing power-generation facilities.
In addition to supporting the university’s clean energy goals, the microreactor will serve as a workforce training tool and R&D platform for a new generation of nuclear scientists, engineers, and operators.
The proposed reactor, designed by U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, is a GEN-IV based High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR).
The USNC HTGR is also expected for first-of-a-kind deployment in Canada at the Chalk River site of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories which is also a research setting.
Challenges Ahead with Questions Pending
The announcement is best seen as an agreement in principle to develop the HTGR at the university site. Neither organization responded to a series of questions (below) about the practical aspects of actually building a first of a kind advanced reactor in a university R&D setting. Update: 07/06/21: A spokesperson for USNC said that the firm would answer these questions as information becomes available.
- Are the references in the announcement to a “two-part” licensing process a reference to the NRC Part 50 licensing process? Does the project have a target date for submitting the license application? How much will it cost to submit it?
- What firm or consortium of firms will fulfill the role of engineering procurement & construction (EPC) lead?
- Does the project intend to solicit for external investors or will the project be 100% funded by the university?
- If there are other investors already committed to the project, can you identify them?
Are there other technology partners for the project, e.g., non-nuclear island including turbines, process heat users, switchyard, etc.?
- Does the project have a target date for breaking ground and for completion once construction is underway?
- Once operational, will the reactor support R&D activities at the university in addition to use of electricity generation and process heat applications?
Some of these questions may be answered in the future if USNC and the university sign on to a process of preapplication engagement with the NRC.
Next Steps – NRC Preapplication Engagement
The assumption is that since the Ultra Safe HTGR is an advanced reactor design, it is likely that the NRC will discuss with the applicants the pros and cons of pre-application engagement. The agency’s view is that it will save the applicant and the agency a lot of time, and the applicant will save a lot of money by not just tossing a completed application, without prior consultation, over the fence for review.
Given the costs of preparing such a document, which can run well over $100 million for a small reactor, it’s a preferred option for the applicant’s investors. Here’s a few talking points courtesy of the NRC on the benefits of preapplication engagement.
Advanced Reactor Stakeholder Public Meeting May 27, 2021 ML21146A347
The press statement notes that the project team has spent the last two years engaging with the university and surrounding community; local, state, and federal governments; and potential industry partners. It adds that the docketing of these efforts with the NRC “will help the team continue to provide transparency of the project status.”
About the MMRTM Energy System
The MMR Energy System integrates one or several standardized micro reactors along with a heat storage unit and a non-nuclear adjacent plant for power conversion and utilization. Its 10 to 100 MWe electrical power and/or process heat can be produced by MMR Energy Systems, depending on configuration.
Technical Specifications of the Ultra Safe HTGR. Table: IAEA
The MMR Energy System can be used to generate power, complement renewables, provide process heat to industrial applications or for high- efficiency hydrogen production, providing clean, reliable energy for any use, anywhere.
The standard micro reactor unit is a small high-temperature gas-cooled reactor generating between 15-30MWt (thermal) at an outlet temperature of 650C. The temperature of the secondary loop will be lower to produce steam to generate electricity or for process heat applications. The medium for the secondary loop will be molten salt. No water is required for cooling.
The MMR uses USNC’s proprietary meltdown-proof FCMTM TRISO fuel (co-developed with Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory).
FCMTM TRISO Fuel elements. Image: Ultra Safe file
The MMR reactor is fueled once for its lifetime. A fuel cartridge is rated at 20 years of full power. If operation of the Energy System is desired beyond 20 years, a cartridge replacement can be performed on site.
Ultra Safe Makes Progress in Canada
The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario. The project is a collaboration between USNC and Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership (GFP).
- According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission website, the UNSC HTGR completed Phase 1 of the pre-licensing Vendor Design Review (VDR) process in February 2019 (executive summary).
- In April 2021, GFP submitted management system documentation in support of its application for a license to prepare a site for a small modular reactor on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited property at the Chalk River Laboratories site.
- On May 6, 2021, the CNSC determined that this documentation and GFP’s plan for additional submissions were sufficient to begin the technical review as part of the licensing application process.
GFP plans to build and operate an MMR unit by 2026.
The project aims to demonstrate MMR technology for wider deployment and provide a local clean energy supply with 15 MWt (thermal) power.
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NuScale Power Secures Investment from South Korea’s GS Energy
NuScale Power announced on 06/30/21 that it completed an investment agreement with GS Energy which is a South Korean fossil energy services provider. GS Energy brings nine years of expertise as a fossil energy solution provider in South Korea and internationally with a diversified portfolio that includes:
- Refining of transportation fossil fuels and other petrochemical products;
- LNG procurement and supply;
- Electric power production and district heat from natural gas; and,
- Oil and gas exploration and production.
GS Energy indicated that the reason it is investing in NuScale is that it seeks to secure a diversified and cleaner energy portfolio and is continuously exploring various forms of renewable energy and new technologies, including nuclear power.
As part of a long-term strategic relationship established under the agreement, GS Energy will provide a cash investment in NuScale Power and support deployment of NuScale plants. The two parties will also look to develop regional NuScale power plant service delivery opportunities.
It isn’t clear what changed the company’s mind from its focus on fossil fuels and convinced it to invest in a nuclear energy project. The firm did not respond to an email inquiry about its change in strategy nor did it disclose the scope of its investment with NuScale or the terms. The company’s financials on its web page are only complete through 2019. NuScale also declined to disclose the scope of the investment or comment on the change in strategy by GS Energy.
Since its formation in 2012 GS Energy has invested heavily in natural gas and oil projects. More recently, the focus on LNG has been driven by the fact that South Korea is scaling back its nuclear reactor fleet under the current administration and is substituting natural gas for nuclear energy to power its mega cities. Also, it is no secret that Russia would like to be a provider of natural gas to South Korea for the same reason. However, a change in leadership in South Korea as a result of the next election might reverse the current administration’s controversial policy of decommissioning nuclear reactors before their time.
The investment from GS Energy is the latest in a series of cash infusions to NuScale from Asian firms. Earlier this year in April 2021, NuScale secured a $40M cash investment from Japan’s iJGC Holdings, followed by another $20M from Japan’s IHI Corporation in May.
NuScale has signed agreements in principle with potential customers interested in deploying its SMR technology in 11 countries, including US, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Jordan.
Countries like Estonia have signed multiple agreements in principle with developers of advanced nuclear reactors, including for the GEH BWRX-300 SMR, but has not moved beyond the talking stage with any of them. NuScale’s outreach to Asian investors indicates an interest in expanding its opportunities to serve the mega cities of Southeast Asia with affordable nuclear energy solutions.
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DOE Invests $61 Million in Advanced Nuclear Energy R&D Projects
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced more than $61 million in funding awards for 99 advanced nuclear energy technology projects in 30 states and a U.S. territory. The funding Supports University Faculty and Student Projects to Improve Resiliency and Development of Carbon-Free Nuclear Power.
The projects, $58 million of which will go to U.S. universities, will focus on nuclear energy research, cross-discipline technology development, and nuclear reactor infrastructure to bolster the resiliency and use of America’s largest domestic source of carbon-free energy.
Additionally, 24 university-led projects will receive $5.9 million for research aimed at improving nuclear reactor infrastructure and providing crucial safety and performance upgrades to a portion of the nation’s 25 university research reactors.
It will also help to meet the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035, and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Nuclear power is critical to America’s clean energy future and we are committed to making it a more accessible, affordable and resilient energy solution for communities across the country,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.
“At DOE we’re not only investing in the country’s current nuclear fleet, but we’re also investing in the scientists and engineers who are developing and deploying the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies that will slash the amount of carbon pollution, create good-paying energy jobs, and realize our carbon-free goals.”
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