- UK / Rolls-Royce ‘Has Secured Investment’ For World’s First SMR Production Line
- House Appropriations Sets Zero Funding for Versatile Test Reactor
- Idaho Lab Study of Microreactors Sees a Future for Them
- New Report Finds Nuclear Energy Could Play A Key Role Decarbonizing the Global Marine Shipping Sector
- Bipartisan Effort Tries Again for American Nuclear Infrastructure Act
- Bipartisan Bill to Bolster Nuclear Science and Engineering Programs at American Universities
UK / Rolls-Royce Secures Investment For Its Reactor Production Line
(NucNet contributed to this report) UK nuclear engineering company Rolls-Royce has secured investment to build the world’s first production line for its mid-range reactor with a consortium it leads securing £210M for the project.
The company also said planning to submit of its 470 MWe PWR design to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) later this year. The arduous and expensive process can take up to four years depending on the quality of the submission and the questions asked by ONR. Regardless, it will be the first reactor design submitted to the agency in recent years that isn’t a full size, e.g., greater than 1000 MWe, reactor. Because of its size, the Rolls-Royve unit is larger than the IAEA threshold for small modular reactors (SMRs) which is 300 MWe.
The Rolls-Royce consortium has been working with its partners and the UK government to secure a funding commitment for a fleet of 16 factory-built SMRs, each providing at least 470 MW of electricity, to be operational by the end of the 2030s for all 16.
Rolls-Royce is reported to be seeking to have the mid-range PWR design to be assessed by regulators in the second half of 2021, which would keep it on track to complete its first unit in the early 2030s and progress towards completing 10 units by 2035. The firm has not yet firmed up its site selection process and some communities, including Wylfa and Oldbury, are already pitching their communities as sites for the one or more of the reactors.
If the entire fleet is built, the combined electricity generated by all of the units would be equivalent to the now moribund Wylfa and Oldbury projects whos prospects for construction were ended by the inability of the UK government to come to terms with Japan’s Hitachi over the financing of the projects.
According to several media report said the consortium led by Rolls-Royce has secured at least £210m needed to unlock a matching amount of taxpayer funding. The firm said that it is in talks with other investors who specialize in energy project for possible additional infusions of capital.
The firm is expected to seek additional cost shared funding from the UK government to cover the costs of the ONR review and to lessen the impact on investors of the regulatory process.
State support for SMRs was revealed in prime minister’s Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution released in the autumn.The plans included investing £525m to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors.
According to earlier reports, in May, Rolls-Royce said it had increased the SMR plant’s power from 440 MW to 470 MW. The cost of each plant will initially be about £2.2bn per unit dropping to £1.8bn by the time five have been completed.
The cost to build a single 470 MWe plan, at an estimated price for a FOAK unit of $4,000/Kw is about $1.9 billion. A customer commitment to pay for it is a key success factor in making the decision to break ground.
Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium for its project, which comprises Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear AMRC, Rolls-Royce, Wood and The Welding Institute.
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House Appropriations Sets Zero Funding for Versatile Test Reactor
Without any comment or relevant text, the House Appropriations Committee provided no funding in FY2022 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).
However, there were significant increases for other DOE advanced nuclear reactor programs. The ANS Wire has a good summary. The vote to zero out funding follows an earlier and preliminary mark-up that provided less than 25% of the requested funding for 2022 or about $65M. American Nuclear Society Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Craig Piercy offered the following statement on the bill:
“While we are disappointed no funding was included for the Versatile Test Reactor, we recognize the overall funding challenges the committee faces. We urge congressional leaders to take a closer look at the VTR as the process moves forward. Domestic fast-spectrum research irradiation capacity is critical to maintaining the U.S. nuclear infrastructure and enabling innovation and global leadership on safety and nonproliferation norms.”
See also ANS Newswire: Setting the Record Straight on the Versatile Test Reactor
It isn’t clear yet what happened in the two week between the first mark and the final report, but the effect, if carried through to final legislation, is a crisis for the program that could end it.
Omnibus Bills May Be a Path to Restore Funding
DOE’s efforts to try to restore the funding on the floor via an amendment will have to wait as the House is now in its August recess. Given the partisan divides in the House and the Senate, it is likely that the government will yet again be put on a continuing resolution in September with an omnibus funding bill for the government crossing the finish line sometime in late December.
That actually might be an advantage for the VTR program as these omnibus bills have a way of being like a train leaving the station with most of the passengers being in coach without personalized tickets.
Omnibus bills often have thousands of pages and the only people familiar with the details are analysts at OMB and CBO. The result is that feeding frenzies erupts on the floors of the House and Senate that produces all kinds of last minute “make goods” and other special pleadings by members of congress that put money back in the bill that was taken out by committee appropriations actions.
So What Happened?
The Union of Concerned Scientists ran a victory lap celebrating the zero funding via an article published in the conservative daily The Hill. The guest article by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) arch druid of anti-nuclear advocacy Ed Lyman spared nothing in its rhetorical dismemberment of the VTR program. He claimed the project “would be obsolete” before it was completed and that it would be subject to cost increases beyond its estimated $6B cost.
The article is wrong on both counts as the VTR is based on the PRISM reactor design which has a technical legacy built on decades of engineering effort including the Integral Fast Reactor. Also, the estimated cost is in the range of $3-6 billion. Lyman cherry picked the high end of the estimated cost range for his article.
Defenders of the VTR Present their Case
In the National Interest web site two long-time nuclear energy experts mounted a defense of the VTR. Thomas Graham Jr. and Richard W. Mies wrote that the Versatile Test Reactor is crucial for U.S. global leadership in nuclear energy. They said the
US has an opportunity by completing the VTR to regain its leadership role in nuclear reactor designs and fuel.
They also pointed out that the Russians are building their own version of an advanced test reactor which if completed will put them ahead of the the US. It would help Russia commercialize its next-generation nuclear technologies faster and provide the capability for long term innovation.
Ambassador (ret.) Thomas Graham, Jr. (@tgrahamjr) is former General Counsel and Acting Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Admiral (ret.) Richard W. Mies served as the fourth Commander-In-Chief of US Strategic Command.
See prior coverage on this blog: Update on Russian Fast Reactor Projects
In the meantime Kathryn Huff, the Department of Energy’s acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy, asserted in an article published online by the Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) on July 30 that demonstration reactors, such as the Natrium and XE-100 reactors being built as full-size power producers with cost-shared funding from the DOE, and test reactors, such as the Versatile Test Reactor, are both necessary for nuclear innovation.
Both are also line items in the DOE budget request, and Huff’s article sends a clear message to congress about the need to fund both the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) and the VTR.
The VTR is proposed to be an anchor facility for the Idaho National Laboratory which is intended to support its nuclear energy R&D mission for decades into the future. It is paired with the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) to guide R&D work there with the VTR as a platform for this work.
A Few FAQ on the VTR
What is a test reactor? What will VTR do?
Test reactors are scientific research tools. They provide intense neutron fluxes that are used to simulate prototypical conditions or conduct accelerated neutron damage irradiation studies. Real-time measurements and subsequent post-irradiation examination techniques provide valuable information on how fuels, materials, components and instrumentation withstand the extreme conditions inside nuclear power plants and even future fusion reactors. This enables scientists and engineers to design safer, longer-lasting and more efficient fuels, materials and components for nuclear energy systems. (DOE Fact Sheet)
Why would/should the government invest in research infrastructure?
The federal government has long invested in large-scale scientific research infrastructure that universities could not afford to support innovation and technology development and help ensure U.S. leadership in science and engineering. Researchers from universities, industry and government agencies can access these capabilities, which support scientific discovery and the development of revolutionary new technologies.
Why is U.S. leadership in nuclear energy important?
The U.S. has long been a leader in not only the research and development of nuclear energy technologies but also in the licensing, safety procedures, operations and security of nuclear power plants.
Because of that, many other countries have based their nuclear operations and regulations on what we do in the U.S. This has led to safer, more efficient operations of commercial nuclear power reactors around the world. Also, when other countries import and deploy U.S. nuclear energy technologies, a long-term strategic partnership is established with those countries for many decades to come.
New scientific facilities such as VTR will enable the U.S. to modernize its nuclear energy research and development infrastructure and retain its leadership role.
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Idaho Lab Study of Microreactors Sees a Future for Them
(WNN contributed to this report) The deployment of microreactors in the short-to-medium term could support energy markets not available to large nuclear plants, but some significant challenges must be overcome for them to capture new market shares. In the longer term, they will be able to contribute to decarbonization efforts. A new report by a team of nuclear reactor experts at the Idaho National Laboratory says that island nations are especially in need of mini-reactors with electrical generating capacity of 1-20 MWe.
Microreactors are a subset of small modular reactors (SMRs) of 1-20 MWe capacity – sometimes referred to as “nuclear batteries” – and include light-water reactors, molten salt reactors, gas-cooled reactors, metal-cooled fast reactors and heat pipe reactors.
The report, “Global Market Analysis of Microreactors,” focuses on future global microreactor markets and the potential for microreactors, assessing their unique capabilities and potential deployment in specific global markets in the 2030-2050 timeframe,
The 147-page study is a summary of work on the economics and market opportunities for microreactors conducted under the DOE’s Microreactor Program. It uses “top-down” and “bottom-up” analysis techniques to evaluate emerging market trends, derive a range of possible demands and rank potential markets in 63 countries including current nuclear energy users and so-called newcomer countries.
The report references studies of potential applications for microreactors in Alaska, Puerto Rico and US federal facilities carried out under the program during 2019-2021.
In the short to medium term, or by 2030, initial deployments of micro-reactors have the potential to gain market share in North American and Western Europe. In a longer time frame, 2035-2050, nuclear reactors in this size range could gain market share in Eastern Europe and Asia as well as other developing nations. A lot depends on vendors being able to produce these reactors, regardless of design, in large numbers at a cost competitive price.
Another application area is for micro-grids that are not connected to regional electricity networks such as remove areas or for urban communities that want the resilience of their own power. Additional applications include replacing diesel generators in remote areas, especially island nations, and in large bulk carrying ships.
Despite a robust portfolio of opportunities, the future is also fraught with challenges according the report.
“Results indicate significant challenges in achieving the technical capacities, meeting regulatory requirements and international accords, achieving competitive costs and for gaining public acceptance.”
The use of micro-reactors in off-the-grid applications for remote or semi-autonomous applications will require additional safety reviews for cybersecurity and physical security risks. Before any of these risks are assess, the most fundamental challenge will be whether production beyond the first few FOAK will produce economies of scale.
“Consideration of costs beyond the demonstration units is necessary to insure producibility and scalability for factory deployment.”
Because of their small size, the report emphasizes that volume overall in terms of manufactured units is a key to gaining market share. Whether this is a realistic expectation is a big unknown, but the report lays out the startling numbers that are going to be needed to make a difference.
Build rates in the hundreds of units by 2040 and in the thousands by 2050 would be needed to attain market penetration at scale and to fill “gaps” in the replacement of fossil sources. The range of applications runs the gamut from generation of electricity to process heat for desalination, and for district heating. The units can also be used to provide baseload power for micro grids that use renewable power from solar and wind systems.
Key questions that remain to be answered include the transport of microreactors to the sites and their fuel types. Disposition of spent nuclear fuel will also be an issue for customers.
The one thing micro-reactors won’t do is to compete with large central systems powered by full size reactors in the power range of 1000 MWe or greater.
“In basic market terms, for microreactors to achieve deep penetration in markets will require achieving specific aggressive cost targets; however, they will not compete with centralized energy sources,” the report says.
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New Report Finds Nuclear Energy Could Play A Key Role Decarbonizing the Global Marine Shipping Sector
A new report from Clean Air Task Force (CATF) finds that nuclear-derived zero-carbon fuels could play a key role in decarbonizing the global marine shipping sector, and offers clear policy recommendations for how the U.S. could lead the global transition away from high-polluting shipping fuels.
“The global marine shipping emissions are dangerously high and getting higher, and we absolutely must decarbonize the sector in order to combat climate change,” said CATF Transportation Director Jonathan Lewis.
“That will require a sector-wide transition from conventional fuels to zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia. To do so, we need to use all the tools at our disposal for making zero-carbon fuel, including one technology that has an unmatched track record of rapid scale-up when policy and private sector incentives are aligned: nuclear energy.“
The report, ‘Bridging the Gap: How Nuclear-Derived Zero-Carbon Fuels Can Help Decarbonize Marine Shipping,’ evaluated the technical implications of using nuclear energy to produce zero-carbon fuels to power the shipping sector, and found that nuclear energy has certain distinct strengths in this space, including:
Nuclear power plants already use hydrogen in their daily operations, and are well positioned to explore hydrogen production for on-site demand in the shipping sector.
- Nuclear energy is historically fast-scaling, positioning it to quickly produce the energy needed to produce zero-carbon fuels.
- Nuclear energy is dense, meaning it can generate large amounts of energy without consuming as many resources or taking up as much space as other energy generating sources, which pairs well with the global shipping sector’s reliance on a small number of concentrated fueling hubs.
- Nuclear energy is a firm power source that is always available, allowing high utilization rates for electrolysis and other fuel synthesis equipment, and can provide high temperature steam to support efficient fuels production.
Much of the existing nuclear energy fleet in the U.S. is accessible by coastal and navigable waterways.
The report also evaluates the U.S.’s positioning to potentially lead the transition to a decarbonized global shipping sector powered by nuclear-derived zero-carbon-fuels. It found that the U.S. had a major opportunity to drive innovation and seize the opportunity embedded in this transition, in part, by:
- Increasing funding and tax credits to promote zero-carbon fuel production and nuclear derived zero-carbon fuel production
- Directing relevant agencies to explore and support the use of zero carbon fuels
– Extending zero-carbon or low-carbon fuel standards
– Promoting technology inclusivity in policies supporting hydrogen-based zero-carbon fuels.
“Nuclear energy is the largest source of carbon-free generation in the U.S., and this new report finds it could unlock the vast potential for zero-carbon fuels in order to decarbonize the global shipping sector,” said Brett Rampal, Director of Nuclear Innovation at Clean Air Task Force.
“That won’t happen on its own, however. Federal support for both nuclear energy and zero-carbon fuels is crucial to seizing this opportunity – and it’s one that could pay dividends for the U.S. economy as the world commits to net-zero emissions shipping.”
In 2018, the international shipping industry accounted for 2.6% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions which is higher than the international aviation sector. The sector is projected to grow significantly, and if it continues to rely primarily on fossil fuels, its sector-wide emissions are on pace to triple by 2050.
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Bipartisan Effort Tries Again for American Nuclear Infrastructure Act
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has re-introduced the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA). it’s purpose is to , improve the nation’s nuclear infrastructure and supply chain, growing the economy, creating jobs, reducing carbon emissions, and strengthening U.S. energy and national security.
The bill was re-introduced by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, along with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Barrasso (R-WY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Mike Crapo (R-ID).
This is the second try to gain passage of the bill which was introduced late in November 2020 but no action was taken that moved it significantly towards passage. A senate hearing on the general objectives of the bill was held in August 2020.
The bill has five main sections.
- International provisions to support U.S. competitiveness and global leadership,
support for US advanced reactor efforts,
- Supporting for the existing fleet,
- Spinning up the the nuclear supply chain infrastructure and workforce, and
- Nuclear cleanup and waste management.
Key provisions include;
- Reestablish American international competitiveness and global leadership;
ANIA empowers the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to lead a consensus-building process in international forums to establish regulations for advanced nuclear reactor designs.
ANIA provides the NRC authority to deny imports of Russian nuclear fuel on national security grounds.
- Expand nuclear energy through advanced nuclear technologies;
ANIA creates a prize to incentivize the successful licensing process of next generation nuclear technologies and fuels.
ANIA requires the NRC to identify and resolve regulatory barriers to enable advanced nuclear technologies to reduce industrial emissions.
- Preserve existing nuclear energy; and
ANIA authorizes a targeted credit program to preserve nuclear plants at risk of prematurely shutting down.
- ANIA modernizes outdated rules that restrict investment in nuclear energy.
- Revitalize America’s nuclear supply chain infrastructure.
ANIA identifies modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper, and smarter.
US infrastructure bill sends a positive signal for nuclear, says NIA
Nuclear Innovation Alliance Executive Director Judi Greenwald issued the following statement on the introduction of the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA) yesterday by Senators Capito, Whitehouse, Barasso, Booker, and Crapo:
“Introduction of the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA) sends a strong signal about continuing bipartisan support for advanced nuclear energy innovation. ANIA provides a licensing prize to reimburse licensing fees for new reactors, consistent with the Nuclear Innovation Alliance’s (NIA’s) recent report on how to reform fees to catalyze nuclear innovation.
The bill also modifies restrictions in the Atomic Energy Act on foreign investment in the United States, enabling U.S. allies to fully invest in American innovation, consistent with past NIA recommendations.
We are encouraged to see continued support for this next step in enabling the development, demonstration and deployment of advanced reactors in the coming decades. When enacted, this clear direction from Congress will ensure the U.S. energy industry can develop the technologies necessary to mid-century climate goals while also creating new jobs and boosting economic development in communities across the country. We look forward to working with the congressional sponsors to help marshal the support needed to enact this vital legislation.”
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Bipartisan Bill to Bolster Nuclear Science and Engineering Programs at American Universities
U.S. Representatives Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16), Sean Casten (IL-06), Peter Meijer (MI-03), and Bill Foster (IL-11) introduced the National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment Act of 2021, a bill designed to enhance the educational and research capabilities of nuclear science and engineering programs, meet the workforce needs of the U.S. nuclear industry, and accelerate the development of advanced nuclear technologies in the U.S.
“As our country shifts towards a 21st Century grid, nuclear science and engineering programs will play a key role in advancing the next generation of reactors and developing a diverse workforce to operate them,” said Rep. Gonzalez.
“I am excited to introduce this bipartisan bill that will support our young scientists and engineers, advance the research and development of advanced nuclear technologies, and restore U.S. leadership in nuclear energy.”
The bill would revitalize America’s nuclear science and engineering programs by providing universities the resources to upgrade their existing infrastructure and establish regional or sub regional consortia that promote collaboration with industry and Department of Energy (DOE) national labs.
It would also require DOE to stand up a program that establishes no more than four new major nuclear science and engineering facilities at U.S. universities. These facilities would focus their efforts on demonstrating various advanced and micronuclear reactor concepts, medical isotope production reactors, and other critical research infrastructure.
To attract and educate a more diverse workforce, the facilities would be set up in a partnership framework between the host university and collaborating universities – including historically black colleges and universities, minority serving institutions, and community colleges.
Statements of Support for the Bill
“Nuclear science and engineering is vital to our country, and is important for both energy and medical needs,” Rep. Casten said. “I am proud to support a bipartisan bill that will create opportunities for a new generation of nuclear engineers and scientists while diversifying our nuclear workforce.”
“Nuclear energy plays a critical role in our energy future and must be a component of any discussion surrounding how we respond to climate change,” said Rep. Meijer.
“It is imperative that we invest in and empower the best and brightest of the next generation to ensure we have a workforce that is equipped to lead the world in the nuclear industry. I am proud to join this bipartisan effort.”
“Scientific research and development offers one of the highest return-on-investments our nation can get,” said Rep. Foster.
“Advanced nuclear energy has the potential to be a key tool in meeting the country’s decarbonization and net-zero clean energy goals, and it is critical to ensure that our universities have the research infrastructure support to be able to investigate these technologies fully.”
* Raymond Cao Director of the Nuclear Engineering Program and Nuclear Reactor Laboratory The Ohio State University
“Upgrading research reactors, enhancing engineering facilities, and establishing university consortiums will greatly enhance our nation’s nuclear science and engineering capabilities. The Ohio State University operates the only research reactor in the state of Ohio, and this bill will help us expand our research capabilities to meet the demands of advanced nuclear energy systems and support the workforce needs critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear science and engineering. I thank the Congressman for his leadership on this critically important issue.”
* Todd Allen, Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Department Chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, University of Michigan
“The Nuclear Engineering Department Heads Organization (NEDHO) and The National Organization of Test, Research, and Training Reactors (TRTR) strongly support the introduction of H.R. 4819 – the National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment Act of 2021. At a time when a next generation of nuclear energy is needed to meet the nation’s clean energy and jobs goals, revitalizing the nation’s university-based research and educational infrastructure is critical to deploying advanced nuclear technology, advancing the probability of deployment, and attracting the nation’s best minds.”
Nuclear Innovation Alliance
“The Nuclear Innovation Alliance is excited to support the proposed National Nuclear University Research Reinvestment Act. Our universities are the foundation of American leadership in technology and innovation, and the proposed legislation would build on that legacy. This bill would not only strengthen institutional capabilities. It would also invest in a new generation of nuclear energy researchers from diverse backgrounds, unleashing a new wave of nuclear innovation.”- Judi Greenwald Executive Director Nuclear Innovation Alliance
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