- New Nuclear Power Sites Planned for South Africa
- Cameco, GE Hitachi and Global Nuclear Fuel to Collaborate on BWRX-300 SMR
- DOE and GE Hitachi Team Up to Lower Costs of Building New Nuclear Reactors
- Rolls-Royce, Cavendish Nuclear Sign SMR partnership Agreement
- Seaborg Claims Plans To Mass-Produce Floating Nuclear Reactors
- NRC Begins Environmental Justice Review of Agency Programs
New Nuclear Power Sites Planned for South Africa
Eskom, the South African state-owned nuclear electric utility, is scheduled to present its choices for sites to be home to a future nuclear power plant to be built in the 2030s.
The utility says it is moving forward on its plans to establish a new 2,500 MWe PWR type nuclear power site in Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape, just west of St. Francis Bay, about 700 km (434 miles) east of Cape Town. If built the project would undoubtedly involved more than one reactor.
South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is responsible for the regulatory framework that protects people, property and the environment from any damaging effects of ionizing radiation or radioactive material. This is the agency that will conduct the hearing on Eskom’s proposed site and decide whether to approve it. The process is similar to one for the US NRC Early Site Permit in which a site is identified and reviewed for environmental impacts without a selection of a specific nuclear reactor or construction date.
Site Selection for Now, but the Procurement Process is Years in the Future
Eskom told a business news wire service it submitted a Nuclear Installation Site License (NISL) application to NNR for the site, with public hearings on a proposed Thyspunt Nuclear Installation Site License (NISL) scheduled in the surrounding towns of Jeffrey’s Bay and St Francis Bay which is set for August 25th.
Thhyspunt was identified as a possible site for a nuclear plant as far back as 2008, with Eskom is also looking at two others – Duynefontein which is just 20 or so miles north of CapeTown, and Bantamsklip, just 20 miles east of Cape Town, also in the Western Cape – as possible sites.
For this hearing, Eskom is limited to evaluating the suitability of the Thyspunt site for a new nuclear installation but does not select a specific nuclear reactor although it does document a preference for a PWR design. Eskom has not selected a vendor for the reactors, nor even an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) lead for such a project.
The hearings are the first step in the application process and are aimed at gaining insights from members of the public on issues relating to health, safety and the environment.
The utility., which has a history of perilous finances, has no near term prospects for financing the planned 2,500 MWe project either with internal resources or in combination with external investors. At $5,000/Kw, the plant could cost $12.5 billion in today’s dollars. At this point Eskom’s best estimate is that it could be ready to proceed with the project in the mid-2030s. A decade and a half from now the plant will either cost a good deal more or the global nuclear industry will have by that time figured out how to slash the enormous costs of PWR type reactors.
Eskom said it has opted for pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology to be used, as it has experience with this type of reactor at the Koeberg power station. Koeberg is currently the only nuclear power station in the country. The site is home to dual 970 MWe PWRs commissioned in 1984. Assuming the plants can be safely operated for 80 years, the decommissioning date is 2064.
If Eskom can break ground in 2035 for 2,500 MWe, and have the reactors enter revenue service by 2042, there is plenty of overlap. However, by then its likely South Africa’s needs for electricity will have grown significantly. Long term planning for energy security hasn’t been Eskom’s strong suit. Government dysfunction can’t continue as a way of doing business if the country wants to keep the lights on.
History of Prior Efforts – Dysfunction and Corruption
Long term plans prepared in the past for additional nuclear generating capacity fell apart three years ago after the ruling party forced then President Jacob Zuma to step down in 2018. The reason is that in 2014 Zuma inked a special deal with Rosatom for 9,600 MWe of Russian built nuclear reactors. The deal would have locked South Africa in Russia’s grip for energy security for the next 80 years.
The so-called “secret” deal, which was inked personally between Zuma and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Brazil, caused an uproar in South Africa as neither the treasury nor the energy ministries had been involved in it. The situation was made worse when it was revealed that Zuma had hired unqualified relatives to run the project.
Zuma is now in jail having been convicted of contempt of court. CNN reported that the court order sending Zuma to serve a 15-month sentence stemmed from Zuma’s refusal to appear at an anti-corruption commission to answer questions about his alleged involvement in corruption during his time as president. In other words, he hasn’t been tried yet on the charges of greasing palms of family members and political friends, just refusing to testify about it.
CNN reported Zuma still faces multiple charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption relating to an arms deal in the late 1990s. Also, he was alleged to have used public funds to lavishly upgrade his home and for other personal uses. Overall, he is at the center of multiple accusations of large-scale graft which is alleged to have occurred during his tenure as president.
There have been multiple efforts by the energy ministry to craft a new Integrated Resource Plan that includes both large and small nuclear reactors. Since 2018 the efforts by the the South African government to resolve its problems with perennial power shortages have not produced a workable plan and, more importantly, one that the country can afford without outside investors or financial aid. Although the lower cost of small modular reactors has looked promising for South Africa, the energy ministry has not made any commitments in that direction.
No Deal with NuScale at Least for Now
This week (07/08/21) Eskom denied in an email message to NeutronBytes that it has any involvement with a letter of intent issued in October 2020 by the U.S. Development Finance Corp. to provide financial backing to US based NuScale, a developer of a 60 MWe SMR to build a fleet of them in South Africa. Eskom said in the email, “there is no possible link to the potential US government funding for NuScale.” The utility also re-emphasized in the email that the upcoming site selection hearing would not result in a commitment of any kind to any vendor.
In the meantime, South Africa’s energy situation is only going to get worse. It’s plan to at least select one or two nuclear power plant sites is driven by the fact that 24,100 MWe of coal capacity is being decommissioned in the next few years. Of that number, 5,732 MWe are set to be decommissioned by 2023. Another 11,017 MWe of coal fired power will be set for D&D by the end of the decade.
National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), which is the part of the government that sets energy policy, said that the massive load shedding incidents the country has experienced recently, as well as over the past decade, has not only resulted in a loss of security of electricity supply to the country, but it also costs sectors of the economy billions and leads to job losses as electricity is an economic enabler of growth. Without it South Africa remains far down the list of countries experiencing prosperity according to the World Bank.
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Cameco, GE Hitachi and Global Nuclear Fuel to Collaborate on SMR
Cameco, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A) have entered into a joint Memorandum of Understanding to explore several areas of cooperation to advance the commercialization and deployment of BWRX-300 small modular reactors (SMRs) in Canada and around the world.
The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that is based on the design basis of GEH’s U.S. NRC-certified 1500 MWe ESBWR. As a result, GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW when compared to other SMR designs.
The GEH SMR entered into Phase 2 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) Vender Design Review (VDR) in January 2020. In the US, GEH has held a series of pre-licensing meetings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
GEH said in a press statement that by leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification by the US NRC, utilizing the licensed and proven GNF2 fuel design, and incorporating proven components and supply chain expertise, GEH believes the BWRX-300 can become the lowest-risk, most cost-competitive and quickest to market SMR.
The firm has made claims of significant cost savings related to construction in presentations to potential customers in Estonia and Poland. However, since no units have been licensed or built, these numbers will need to be proven in practice.
The ESBWR was licensed by the NRC in the US for DTE’s FERMI III site and for Dominion’s North Anna III site. Both utilities did not proceed with construction due to competition from low-priced natural gas, and for other business reasons unrelated to reactor design issues.
GEH noted that the proposed collaboration with GNF-A will yield significant technological differentiation compared to other reactor designs.
“BWR and CANDU fuel types are closely related as both use similar cladding materials as well as ceramic, uranium dioxide fuel pellets so this type of collaboration offers the potential to extract significant synergies between the two fuel designs and manufacturing processes, enabling the expansion of Canada’s local fuel supply chain capabilities,” said Lisa McBride, Canada SMR Country Leader for GEH.
Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) is a world-leading supplier of boiling water reactor fuel and fuel-related engineering services. GNF is a GE-led joint venture with Hitachi, Ltd. and operates primarily through Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, LLC in Wilmington, N.C., and Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan Co., Ltd. in Kurihama, Japan.
The ESBWR is not a CANDU type reactor, which uses natural uranium and heavy water. The ESBWR design information calls for conventional commercial fuel assemblies with enriched uranium fuel for a boiling water reactor.
Cameco supplies uranium, uranium refining and conversion services to the nuclear industry worldwide and is a leading manufacturer of fuel assemblies and reactor components for CANDU reactors.
Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel, said; “Cameco intends to be a go-to fuel supplier for these innovative (BWRX-300) reactors. Accordingly, we’re looking forward to working with GEH and GNF to see what opportunities might exist around their novel small modular reactors design.”
Cameco is one of the largest global providers of the uranium fuel. The firm has controlling ownership of the world’s largest high-grade reserves of uranium ore. Utilities around the world rely on its nuclear fuel products.
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DOE and GE Hitachi Team Up to Lower Costs of Building New Nuclear Reactors
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $5.8M in funding to develop three construction technologies that together if implemented have the potential to reduce the cost of new nuclear builds by more than 10 percent.
The project team, led by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, will demonstrate three technologies, that could offer promising developments from other industries that have not been tested within the context of nuclear energy. These include:
- Vertical shaft construction, a best practice from the tunneling industry that could
reduce construction schedules by more than a year. Some SMRs propose to encase their reactor pressure vessels in underground vertical shafts.
- Steel Bricks modular steel-concrete composite structures, much like high-tech LEGO [tm] pieces, which could significantly reduce the labor required on site
- Advanced monitoring, coupled with digital twin technology, which can create a digital
replica of the nuclear power plant structure
These technologies can be applied to a variety of advanced reactor designs to significantly improve the economics of bringing advanced reactors to market.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy leads a proposal team that also includes Black & Veatch, the Electric Power Research Institute, Purdue University, Caunton Engineering, Modular Walling Systems Limited, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
This work is funded and managed through DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), which was established in 2019 to enable advanced reactor demonstration and deployment. NRIC is located at the Idaho National Laboratory which has plenty of open space to try out new construction methods.
This project, referred to as the Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) initiative, will be conducted in two phases.
- The initial phase will focus on technology development and preparation for a small-scale demonstration.
- Pending the successful completion of the first phase and future appropriated funds, a second phase is planned to carry out a larger demonstration effort within three years of this award.
NRIC’s Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) Initiative aims to reduce cost overruns and schedule slippages that have plagued the construction of nuclear power plant projects.
With this initiative NRIC plans to facilitate development of advanced nuclear plant construction technologies and approaches through partnerships that could provide game changing benefits to the construction of advanced nuclear power plants.
“Construction costs and schedule overruns have plagued new nuclear builds for decades,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE.
“By leveraging advanced construction technologies, we can drive down costs and speed the pace of advanced nuclear deployment – much needed steps to tackle global climate change and meet the President’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”
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Rolls-Royce, Cavendish Nuclear Sign SMR partnership Agreement
(WNN) Rolls-Royce and Cavendish Nuclear have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Under the agreement, Cavendish Nuclear will perform manufacturing productions services involving the design, licensing, manufacturing and delivery aspects of the Rolls-Royce 470 MWe factory fabricated small modular reactor (SMR) (PDF file)
Conceptual image of the Rolls Royce SMR Installation
The Rolls-Royce SMR Consortium includes Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Rolls-Royce, Jacobs, The Welding Institute and Nuclear AMRC.
The Rolls-Royce led-UK SMR Consortium has said it plans to build 16 SMRs, each with a generation capacity of 470 MWe. If all 16 units are built by the end of the 2030s they could equal the generating capacity of the Wylfa and Oldbury nuclear projects. These efforts were suspended, perhaps indefinitely, when the UK government failed to come to terms with Japan’s Hitachi over the cost of the twin 1350 MWe ABWRs slated for each site.
The Rolls-Royce SMR, which the consortium said can power a million homes, will take advantage of factory built modularization techniques to drastically reduce the amount of on-site construction and to deliver a low cost nuclear solution that is competitive with renewable alternatives.
In May, Rolls-Royce announced that it will start the UK regulatory process for its SMR later this year. The announcement followed the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s opening of the Generic Design Assessment to advanced nuclear technologies. The consortium plans to complete its first unit in the early 2030s and build up to 10 by 2035.
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Seaborg Claims Plans To Mass-Produce Floating Nuclear Reactors
According to press statements by the Seaborg firm of Denmark, the company plans to establish manufacturing centers in Southeast Asis where it will begin “serial production” of its floating 200 MWe Compact Molten Salt Reactor (CMSR) molten salt reactor in 2023. The plant will be installed on floating platforms that will be fabricated by shipyards in South Korea. The firm says that it plans future configurations of 400 MWe and 600 MWe units also for either barges or self-powered ships.
According to a June 2021 media interview in IEEE Spectrum, Seaborg Technologies co-founder and CEO Troels Schönefeldt said, “the most impactful change to the business model is Seaborg’s proposal to install these reactors on barges, and float them offshore rather than buying up land to develop nuclear power plants.:
He said in a radio interview that there are several advantages here. For starters, you can manufacture them in bulk at a single facility. Seaborg is looking at Korean shipyards, which are already closely and efficiently connected to supply chains with enormous production capacity.”
“These barges can be moved just about anywhere on the planet, either moored offshore or on large or small rivers, depending on how big a reactor it is. There’s virtually no site preparation required; it’s fully self-contained and very easy to connect to a power grid.”
The reactor design is molten salt using uranium fluoride as the matrix for the fuel. The firm says each reactor will have a 12 year cycle between refuelings. In addition to producing electricity, Seaborg said on its web sit that the outlet temperature of the reactor is high enough to efficiently produce carbon-neutral hydrogen, synthetic fuels and fertilizers.
Schonefeldt did not identify which country’s nuclear regulatory agency would perform the initial safety review of the design and licensing of the reactor. The firm has published several timelines for production in interviews with various news media. Its website calls for a full scale prototype by 2025 and commercial production in 2027.
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NRC Begins Environmental Justice Review of Agency Programs
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a systematic review of how the agency’s programs, policies and activities address environmental justice. As part of the review, agency staff will seek public comment related to how the NRC addresses environmental justice, given its mission of protecting people and the environment.
“We anticipate that these meetings will invite a wide range of useful perspectives, from community groups, non-governmental organizations, labor unions, and nuclear power plant operators,” said NRC Chairman Christopher T. Hanson. “What we learn will help enhance the staff’s reviews of license applications and other activities that we regulate.”
The Commission directed the review in a staff requirements memorandum dated April 23, giving the staff nine months to conduct the review.
See also separately from the NRC’s announcement a process and tools for assessing environmental justice issues prepared by PNNL.
An Environmental Justice Review Team has been established within the NRC Office of the Executive Director for Operations and has begun reviewing recent Executive Orders and assessing practices of other federal, state and tribal governments.
The team will also review the adequacy of the NRC’s 2004 Policy Statement on the Treatment of Environmental Justice Matters in NRC Regulatory and Licensing Actions.
The team will evaluate whether the NRC should incorporate environmental justice beyond implementation through the National Environmental Policy Act, as set out in the policy statement, and consider whether there may be benefits from establishing formal mechanisms to gather external stakeholder input.
The Environmental Justice Review Team will hold two public meetings by webinar July 15 to provide an overview of its review and receive public comment. The webinars will be held at two time slots (eastern time) on 07/15/21.
Details for accessing the webinars are available in the public meetings notices linked above. A notice will be published on July 9 in the Federal Register asking specific questions to inform the team’s review and describing other means to provide public comment.
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