- NRC Issues License to Interim Storage Partners to Store Spent Nuclear Fuel in Texas
- China’s HTR-PM 1st Criticality at Shidao Bay
- Terrestrial Energy Upgrades IMSR400 Gen IV Nuclear Power Plant
- Cameco And X-energy Sign MOU for Deployment Of Xe-100 SMR In Canada And US
- Polish Chemical Giant Looks to Nuclear Process Heat to Decarbonize its Operations
- Recent Developments in Space Nuclear Propulsion / Fuel for Earth Orbit and Deep Space Missions
- NRC Updates Its Interest in Artificial Intelligence
NRC Issues License to Interim Storage Partners to Store Spent Nuclear Fuel in Texas
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued a license to Interim Storage Partners LLC to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel in Andrews, Texas. Interim Storage Partners is a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) and Orano USA.
The license authorizes the company to receive, possess, transfer and store up to 5000 tonnes of used fuel and 231.3 tonnes of Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) low-level radioactive waste for 40 years. GTCC is defined by the NRC as low-level radioactive waste with concentrations of radionuclides that exceed certain limits.
Interim Storage Partners intends to construct the storage facility on property adjacent to WCS’s existing low-level radioactive waste disposal site, which is already operating under a Texas license. The company has said it plans to expand the new facility in seven additional phases, of 5,000 tonnes each up to a total capacity of 40,000 ton of fuel. Each expansion would require a license amendment with additional NRC safety and environmental reviews.
The used fuel and waste must be stored in canisters and cask systems, and they must meet NRC standards for protection against leakage, radiation dose rates, and criticality, under normal and accident conditions. The canisters are required to be sealed when they arrive at the facility, and remain sealed during onsite handling and storage activities. ( See below a conceptual view of a dry cask for spent fuel storage. Image: US NRC)
In a news release this week, the NRC said the proposal passed its extensive reviews for environmental impact, technical safety and security. The canisters that will contain the waste must also meet federal standards for protecting against leakage.
The NRC’s review of the license application included a technical safety and security review, an environmental impact review and adjudication before an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. A safety evaluation report, documenting the technical review, is being issued along with the license. The NRC issued a final environmental impact statement on the application in July.
Interim Storage Partners said in a statement that the planned facility satisfies “all environmental, health, and safety requirements without negative impact to nearby residents or existing industries.”
Texas State Government is Opposed to the Project
The Washington Post reports that in Texas, environmental activists have forged a rare alliance with oil interests and powerful state Republicans to prevent the site from moving forward.
In a direct challenge to the authority of the NRC, Texas Gov. Abbott signed legislation preventing federally approved waste facilities from obtaining local construction and wastewater permits. The governor has framed the license as an unwelcome incursion by the Biden administration, which he accused of “trying to dump highly radioactive nuclear waste” into the oil fields in the Texas Permian basin.
Oil and gas companies expressed concerns that radioactivity from the casks could contaminate their operations. Green groups in Texas attacked the project claiming the risk of transporting spent fuel by rail to the site was too dangerous. In fact, actual tests of collisions of trains moving at high speed with the dry casks has shown no possible releases of radioactivity. The casks have also been tested regarding fires and other types of accidents.
Critics of the plan also disregarded the fact that the U.S. Navy has been delivering spent nuclear fuel by train to a site in eastern Idaho for decades with no accidents.
The business model for Interim Storage Partners is that the facility once approved would be eligible for nuclear waste fee payments from the U.S. government. According to estimates reported by the Washington Post, the firm could earn large fees from the U.S. government.
The Energy Department makes annual payments to the companies that store spent nuclear fuel at their reactors. In 2015, a Congressional Budget Office report said the department had already paid more than $5 billion to utility companies for storing waste and estimated such payments could eventually total $29 billion.
The Andrews, TX, project is a joint venture between the U.S. subsidiary of Orano, a French state-owned corporation, and Waste Control Specialists, a landfill company acquired by New York private equity firm J.F. Lehman in 2018. J.F. Lehman also owns NorthStar, a nuclear decommissioning firm that buys and dismantles old nuclear power plants, and has signaled its interest in shipping used nuclear material to the Texas storage facility.
Separately, the NRC is currently reviewing an application from Holtec International for a similar facility proposed for Lea County, New Mexico, on which it currently anticipates reaching a decision in January 2022. Holtec’s business includes decommissioning closed nuclear power plants. It also manufactures the dry casks that store the spent nuclear fuel.
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China’s HTR-PM 1st Criticality at Shidao Bay
(NucNet) The first of the two high-temperature gas-cooled reactors at the Shidao Bay demonstration HTR-PM plant in Facility scheduled to begin generating power for grid in 2021, eastern China, attained reached first criticality on Monday, China National Nuclear Corporation said. The facility is scheduled to begin generating power for grid later this year.
The No.1 reactor at the plant, also known as at Shidaowan, achieved first criticality 09/12/21, CNNC announced. It said the milestone was reached 23 days after the start of fuel loading. Operators will now perform zero-power physical tests to verify the core and control rod performance and the functionality of monitoring equipment.
The gas-cooled HTR-PM is a Generation-IV reactor design with twin reactor modules of 100 MW each driving a single 200-MW steam turbine.
Its fuel is in the form of 420,000 six-centimeter graphite pebbles containing uranium enriched to 8.5% U-235. Instead of cooling water, the reactor’s graphite core is submerged in inert helium gas with an outlet temperature of from 250-to-750°C. The heated helium goes directly to the steam generator.
China Huaneng, the lead organization in the consortium to build the HTR-PM with a 47.5% stake, said the plant is suitable for small and medium-sized power grids and has a range of potential commercial applications, including power generation, cogeneration of heat and power, and high-temperature process heat applications.
Other consortium members are China National Nuclear Corporation subsidiary China Nuclear Engineering Corporation (32.5%) and Tsinghua University’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology (20%), which is the research and development leader.
Work on the HTGR began in December 2012 and it had had been expected to start generation in 2019, which would have made it the first Generation IV reactor to enter operation. Unconfirmed reports indicate the delay was the result of redesign work after the first prototype had disappointing results in terms of performance. China has plans to build as many as 19 more units.
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Terrestrial Energy Upgrades IMSR400 Gen IV Nuclear Power Plant
Terrestrial Energy announced its upgraded Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) nuclear power plant design – the IMSR400 – a facility with a net 390 MWe of electric generation capacity for grid supply from twin reactors and generators. The company said the upgrade was the result of input it received from potential customers.
“With our upgraded IMSR400 Generation IV nuclear power plant, Terrestrial Energy is raising the bar for innovative carbon-free technology in terms of cost-competitiveness, resilience, and scalability,” said Simon Irish, CEO, Terrestrial Energy. (IMSR cutaway right. Image: TE file)
Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR400 is one of three Small Modular Reactor (SMR) power plant designs under consideration for deployment at Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. It is one of two Generation IV technology candidates, and the only Canadian technology candidate.
The company said in its press statement that using Generation IV molten salt reactor technology, the IMSR400 generates electric power 50 percent more efficiently than conventional nuclear power plants that use water cooled and moderated reactor technology.
With this 50 percent efficiency improvement, the company said, the IMSR400 has a reduced capital requirement and waste footprint, and improved economics per kWh of electricity for new nuclear power plants.
Since early 2016 Terrestrial Energy has been committed to the CNSC’s Vendor Design Review process. It completed Phase 1 in 2017 and expects to complete Phase 2 by early 2022. Since late 2019, the company has also been engaged with the CNSC and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as the two regulatory agencies collaborate to develop licensing practices to support efficient reviews of nuclear power plants.
The IMSR400 uses nuclear fuel at standard enrichment of less than 5% U235 which avoids the considerable cost and time of re-licensing uranium enrichment plants and removes hurdles to commercialization. The company announced an agreement on August 17 with Westinghouse and the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory to provide the IMSR’s nuclear fuel supply, the first Generation IV Small Modular Reactor (SMR) to have such an agreement.
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Cameco And X-energy Sign MOU for Deployment Of Xe-100 SMR In Canada And US
Cameco (TSX: CCO; NYSE: CCJ) and X-energy have entered a non-binding and non-exclusive Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore possible areas of cooperation to support the potential future deployment, fueling and servicing of Xe-100 small modular reactors (SMRs) in Canada and the United States. Cameco has no SMR development effort of its own.
“We intend to be a fuel supplier of choice for the emerging SMR and advanced reactor market and look forward to working with X-energy to see what opportunities might exist around their innovative reactor technology.” said Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel.
“We feel very confident about the future of nuclear power and the future of SMRs, here in Canada, in the U.S. and across the globe.””
“Cameco is a cornerstone of the Canadian nuclear industry and has global reach,” said Pete Pappano, President of TRISO-X, which is X-energy’s fuel fabrication subsidiary.
Cameco is one of the largest global suppliers of uranium and a leader in uranium mining, refining, conversion and fuel manufacturing services. For more than three decades, Cameco has been safely and reliably producing uranium and nuclear fuel products to generate electricity at the world’s nuclear reactors.
Maryland-based X-energy is developing Generation IV high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors and the structural isotropic particle fuel (Triso) fuel to power them.
In August 2020, X-energy began its vendor design review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for the Xe-100 design. The review will demonstrate X-energy’s understanding of Canadian requirements and confirm there are no fundamental licensing barriers for the Xe-100 in Canada. The process will also provide the company valuable early feedback to further strengthen its design.
The Xe-100 is an 80 MWe reactor that can be scaled into a “four-pack” 320 MW power plant. It uses Triso fuel that can integrate into large, regional electricity systems as a base and load-following source of low-carbon power. (Xe-100 Tech specs)
Polish Chemical Giant Looks to Nuclear Process Heat to Decarbonize its Operations
(WNN) Polish chemical producer Ciech will consider using nuclear technologies to replace coal burning for power and process heat in its plants. Ciech has signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate with Synthos Green Energy, which is already working with GE-Hitachi and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation. Both of the reactor designs from these firms can produce process heat, at 100-200°C and at 630°C, respectively.
Ciech and Synthos said they will “define the possibility of building small or “micromodular” nuclear reactors on the premises of Ciech’s production plants.
“If the licensing process in Poland runs correctly, there is nothing to prevent the Generation IV reactors from being commissioned at Ciech plants before the end of the decade,” said Rafał Kasprów, chairman of Synthos Green Energy.
Ciech said it is considering nuclear to replace coal at its plants producing soda ash (sodium carbonate), which has applications ranging from the manufacture of glass and bricks, to domestic soap and food additives. The company is the second largest producer of soda ash in the EU, with large, energy-intensive plants at Inowrocaw and Janikowo. The plants currently burn coal in combined heat and power plants that provide steam for process heat.
Synthos is a large chemicals group based in Poland. It has taken a leading role in the pursuit of nuclear energy in the country, particularly in the industrial sector, through Synthos Green Energy.
In June Synthos began cooperation with Polish state petrochemical firm PKN Orlen to cooperate on small and modular reactors. The company is also developing cooperation in the field of hydrogen production with the use of micro reactors.
Recent Developments in Space Nuclear Propulsion / Fuel for Earth Orbit and Deep Space Missions
(Space News & wire services) A new solicitation from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) seeks “mature commercial technologies that can provide power and propulsion in the near term.” The Defense Innovation Unit has issued a call for bids for small nuclear-powered engines for space missions beyond Earth orbit.
DIU says electric and solar-based propulsion systems are not suitable for missions beyond Earth orbit and are too bulky for use on modern commercial spacecraft.
“Advanced propulsion technology that enables high delta-V and electrical power to payloads, while maintaining fuel efficiency, is required to enable new DoD mission sets in space.”
Bidders have to show “credible manufacturing, regulatory, and licensing paths toward prototype development within three to five years and a follow-on path to flight based testing.”
NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency currently are funding the development of fission-based propulsion and power such as nuclear thermal propulsion technology. DIU says it is not duplicating existing programs but is seeking to support current government projects with “mature commercial technologies that can provide power and propulsion in the near term.”
DARPA believes that nuclear-powered propulsion could enable rapid maneuver in space which is a capability that is difficult to achieve with current electric and chemical propulsion systems. Propulsion systems are generally used to readjust satellite positions when they drift out of their assigned position or to avoid collisions, while occasionally transporting those satellites to new orbits to continue their mission or for new tasks.
However, future U.S. military missions may require much more maneuverability and power. Future U.S. missions will need more electrical power to more frequently change orbits, transfer other objects to new orbits and operate beyond Earth’s orbit.
Moreover, the shrinking size of many space systems driven by the increased capabilities of small satellites and cubesats imposes volume constraints on future propulsion systems. In other words, the military wants more power, but not by simply building bigger propulsion systems or adding more solar panels.
Interested companies that can show a plan for prototype development within three to five years could be awarded other transaction authority contracts to support laboratory-based prototyping of such systems, followed by a path to flight-based testing.
Last April the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued contracts to three companies to design a nuclear thermal propulsion system for space. The program, known as the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, seeks to build nuclear thermal propulsion that can enable rapid maneuver in space, particularly for cislunar operations. General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin are the prime contractors on that effort.
ESA To Investigate Production of PU-238 for Space Missions
The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded a contract to Tractebel to evaluate the possibility of producing plutonium 238 (Pu-238), the nuclear fuel used to power deep space missions.
The fuel powers nuclear batteries known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) and radioisotope heater units (RHUs) that are vital to providing spacecrafts and astronauts with electricity and heat where the sunlight isn’t strong enough to power solar panels. This is generally beyond the orbit of Mars,
The system could also be used for the European Lunar Lander to explore the moon. The lander is expected be launched by the end of the decade.
Together with its partners SCK CEN and ORANO, Tractebel will study the possibility of manufacturing Pu-238 by bombarding neptunium-237 from the La Hague recycling facility in France with the neutron flux of the BR2 research reactor in Mol, Belgium, operated by SCK CEN.
Nuclear batteries (RTGs and RHUs) are a proven technology for space exploration. However, producing plutonium 238 is complex and costly, and for the time being only the United States and Russia can do it. The companies will develop a roadmap for the creation of a Pu-238 production chain in Europe that will include a timeline and estimated production capacity and costs. They will also evaluate regulatory acceptance.
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NRC Updates Its Interest in Artificial Intelligence
Earlier this year the NRC posted a Federal Register Notice asking for input on the use of machine learning and other modes of artificial intelligence to enhance safety for nuclear power plants.
Despite getting fewer than about half a dozen comments, based on documents associated with the Docket ID NRC-2021-0048, there has been progress.
According to Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the agency, the staff has collected and analyzed the responses to the Federal Register Notice. The analysis was communicated during a public NRC workshop on AI/ML and is expected to be documented in a publicly available report later this year. Insights from the responses are being considered in the agency’s effort for developing strategies related to the use of AI/ML in NRC activities.
However, AI or machine learning is a work in progress for the NRC at this time.
“We’re still in the early stages of developing strategies and applications for the use of AI/ML. The agency is not currently undertaking any activities with respect to a proposed rule for AI/ML,” Burnell said.
Burnell also noted that this summer the NRC conducted a series of workshops to provide a forum for the NRC, nuclear industry and stakeholders to discuss the state of knowledge and research activities related to data science and AI and their application in the nuclear industry.
At these workshops, the agency worked with internal and external stakeholders to identify the benefits and risks associated with the use of AI in regulatory activities and discussed ongoing and planned projects in the nuclear industry. The third and last workshop on Future Focused Initiatives is scheduled for October 2021. More information about the workshops can be found online at the NRC website.
The presentations from the first of the three workshops are also online. Presentations for the 2nd and 3rd workshop will be online also so check back for them.
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