Report on Options to Keep Diablo Canyon Open

  • Report – Options to Keep Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant Open
  • Q&A with MIT Team on Diablo Canyon Plant Report
  • Ghana Prepares to Issue Tender for a Nuclear Power Plant
  • Argentina Restarts Work on CAREM-25 SMR
  • Russia / First Batch Of Remix Fuel For VVER Reactors Passes Acceptance Tests

Options to Keep Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant Open

(MIT Press Office) Researchers at MIT and Stanford have conducted an analysis that the plant could provide multiple benefits for California, including desalinated water and clean hydrogen fuel, if it was kept open..

The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California, the only one still operating in the state, is set to close in 2025. A team of researchers have analyzed the potential benefits the plant could provide if its operation were extended to 2030 or 2045.

diablo canyon

They found that this nuclear plant could simultaneously help to stabilize the state’s electric grid, provide desalinated water to supplement the state’s chronic water shortages, and provide carbon-free hydrogen fuel for transportation. MIT News asked report co-authors Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, and John Lienhard, the Jameel Professor of Water and Food, to discuss the group’s findings.

The experts are from MIT’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab, and Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research; Stanford’s Precourt Energy Institute; and energy analysis firm LucidCatalyst LLC (Full Text of ythe report as a PDF file)

Key Study Findings

Delaying the retirement of Diablo Canyon to 2035 would reduce California power sector carbon emissions by more than 10% from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on gas, save $2.6 Billion in power system costs, and bolster system reliability to mitigate brownouts;

If the plant is operated to 2045 and beyond, Diablo Canyon could save up to $21 Billion in power system costs and spare 90,000 acres of land from use for energy production, while meeting coastal protection requirements.

Using Diablo Canyon as a power source for desalination could substantially augment fresh water supplies to the state as a whole and to critically over drafted basins regions such as the Central Valley, producing fresh water volumes equal to or substantially exceeding those of the proposed Delta Conveyance Project—but at significantly lower investment cost.

A hydrogen plant connected to Diablo Canyon could produce clean hydrogen to meet growing demand for zero-carbon fuels, at a cost up to 50% less than hydrogen produced from solar and wind power, with a much smaller land footprint.

Operating Diablo Canyon as a polygeneration facility—with coordinated and varying production of electricity, desalinated water, and clean hydrogen—could provide multiple services to California, including grid reliability as needed, and further increase the value of the Diablo Canyon electricity plant by nearly 50% (and more, if water prices were to substantially increase under conditions of worsening drought).

Q&A with Research Team on Diablo Canyon Report

Q: Your report suggests co-locating a major desalination plant alongside the existing Diablo Canyon power plant. What would be the potential benefits from operating a desalination plant in conjunction with the power plant?

Lienhard: The cost of desalinated water produced at Diablo Canyon would be lower than for a stand-alone plant because the cost of electricity would be significantly lower and you could take advantage of the existing infrastructure for the intake of seawater and the outfall of brine. Electricity would be cheaper because the location takes advantage of Diablo Canyon’s unique capability to provide low cost, zero-carbon baseload power.

Depending on the scale at which the desalination plant is built, you could make a very significant impact on the water shortfalls of state and federal projects in the area. In fact, one of the numbers that came out of this study was that an intermediate-sized desalination plant there would produce more fresh water than the highest estimate of the net yield from the proposed Delta Conveyance Project on the Sacramento River. You could get that amount of water at Diablo Canyon for an investment cost less than half as large, and without the associated impacts that would come with the Delta Conveyance Project.

And the technology envisioned for desalination here, reverse osmosis, is available off the shelf. You can buy this equipment today. In fact, it’s already in use in California and thousands of other places around the world.

Q: You discuss in the report three potential products from the Diablo Canyon plant:  desalinatinated water, power for the grid, and clean hydrogen. How well can the plant accommodate all of those efforts, and are there advantages to combining them as opposed to doing any one of them separately?

Buongiorno: California, like many other regions in the world, is facing multiple challenges as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions on a grand scale. First, the wide deployment of intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind creates a great deal of variability on the grid that can be balanced by dispatchable firm power generators like Diablo.

  • The first mission for Diablo is to continue to provide reliable, clean electricity to the grid.
  • The second challenge is the prolonged drought and water scarcity for the state in general. And one way to address that is water desalination co-located with the nuclear plant at the Diablo site, as John explained.
  • The third challenge is related to decarbonization the transportation sector. A possible approach is replacing conventional cars and trucks with vehicles powered by fuel cells which consume hydrogen. Hydrogen has to be produced from a primary energy source. Nuclear power, through a process called electrolysis, can do that quite efficiently and in a manner that is carbon-free.

Our economic analysis took into account the expected revenue from selling these multiple products — electricity for the grid, hydrogen for the transportation sector, water for farmers or other local users — as well as the costs associated with deploying the new facilities needed to produce desalinated water and hydrogen. We found that, if Diablo’s operating license was extended until 2035, it would cut carbon emissions by an average of 7 million metric tons a year — a more than 11 percent reduction from 2017 levels — and save ratepayers $2.6 billion in power system costs.

Further delaying the retirement of Diablo to 2045 would spare 90,000 acres of land that would need to be dedicated to renewable energy production to replace the facility’s capacity, and it would save ratepayers up to $21 billion in power system costs.

Finally, if Diablo was operated as a polygeneration facility that provides electricity, desalinated water, and hydrogen simultaneously, its value, quantified in terms of dollars per unit electricity generated, could increase by 50 percent.

Lienhard: Most of the desalination scenarios that we considered did not consume the full electrical output of that plant, meaning that under most scenarios you would continue to make electricity and do something with it, beyond just desalination. I think it’s also important to remember that this power plant produces 15 percent of California’s carbon-free electricity today and is responsible for 8 percent of the state’s total electrical production. In other words, Diablo Canyon is a very large factor in California’s decarbonization. When or if this plant goes offline, the near-term outcome is likely to be increased reliance on natural gas to produce electricity, meaning a rise in California’s carbon emissions.

Q: This plant in particular has been highly controversial since its inception. What’s your assessment of the plant’s safety beyond its scheduled shutdown, and how do you see this report as contributing to the decision-making about that shutdown?

Buongiorno: The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has a very strong safety record. The potential safety concern for Diablo is related to its proximity to several fault lines. Being located in California, the plant was designed to withstand large earthquakes to begin with.

Following the Fukushima accident in 2011, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewed the plant’s ability to withstand external events (e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes) of exceptionally rare and severe magnitude. After nine years of assessment the NRC’s conclusion is that “existing seismic capacity or effective flood protection [at Diablo Canyon] will address the unbounded reevaluated hazards.” That is, Diablo was designed and built to withstand even the rarest and strongest earthquakes that are physically possible at this site.

As an additional level of protection, the plant has been retrofitted with special equipment and procedures meant to ensure reliable cooling of the reactor core and spent fuel pool under a hypothetical scenario in which all design-basis safety systems have been disabled by a severe external event.

Q: What do you expect will be the impact of your report?

Lienhard: PG&E [the California utility] has already made the decision to shut down the plant, and we and others hope that decision will be revisited and reversed. We believe that this report gives the relevant stakeholders and policymakers a lot of information about options and value associated with keeping the plant running, and about how California could benefit from clean water and clean power generated at Diablo Canyon. It’s not up to us to make the decision, of course — that is a decision that must be made by the people of California.

Q: What are the biggest challenges or obstacles to seeing these ideas implemented?

Lienhard: California has very strict environmental protection regulations, and it’s good that they do. One of the areas of great concern to California is the health of the ocean and protection of the coastal ecosystem. As a result, very strict rules are in place about the intake and outfall of both power plants and desalination plants, to protect marine life. Our analysis suggests that this combined plant can be implemented within the parameters prescribed by the California Ocean Plan and that it can meet the regulatory requirements.

Via MIT Press Office

& & &

Ghana Prepares to Issue Tender for a Nuclear Power Plant

(Business wires in Ghana) Ghana is ready to invite bids towards the negotiation of a contract to set up the first nuclear power plant, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

According to the statement, Ghana currently plans to commission the first nuclear power plant by 2030. So far the energy ministry has not issued a list of expressions of interest by potential bidders. Also, it has not indicated whether its tender will be for a single full size reactor, e.g., 1000 MWe, or several small modular plants.

A statement issued by the Energy Ministry said the plans for a tender, “places Ghana behind only Egypt and South Africa, and ahead of Nigeria, in the latest Africa Nuclear Development Race rankings.” While the ranking might be accurate, the reality is that on the ground conditions are less than promising for new nuclear power stations in Africa.

Egypt has an April  2018 agreement with Russia’s Rosatom to build four 1200 MWe VVER nuclear reactors, but so far the process of preparing the paperwork for the project has bogged down progress on it. There still is no firm date to break ground despite the fact that Russia is financing 85% of the costs. At $5,000/Kw, the project could run up a bill of at least $24 billion with Egypt’s share just $3.6 billion. These costs don’t include improvements to the grid to deliver the electricity to customers.

South Africa continues to struggle with its plans for new nuclear energy power stations due to the perilous financial condition of Eskom, its state own electric utility. The country’s energy ministry has set an objective of building and completing a new unit by the mid 2030s. It issued a request for information from potential vendors in May 2020.

Nigeria’s recent expression of interest in hosting Russian built nuclear reactors, announced last September, is the opening act for a process that could take 10-25 years.

Kenya has delayed its plans to build a nuclear power station to sometime in the 2030 or later time frame.  It eliminated its nuclear energy office in the energy ministry last month due to budget shortfalls.

Despite the gloomy landscape, at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow Scotland, Ghana’s Energy Minister, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh in a panel discussion, said in response to a question on nuclear energy that Ghana’s energy mix has significant contributions from renewable energy sources, particularly hydro, which forms the baseload energy in the country.

According to Dr. Prempeh, due to the growth in demand and the incidence of climate change, the large hydro dams have become unreliable and cannot meet baseload demand in the near future.

He said nuclear energy is the only clean baseload power that will meet the energy source criteria for the country, given that Ghana is mindful of her commitment to the Paris Agreement, not to contribute to the increase in carbon footprint and her determination to provide baseload power.

Opoku Prempeh also said that a nuclear power plant built in any part of the continent should be considered as a replacement for a possible fossil fuel power plant, as this is a step towards global decarbonization.

He called for a comprehensive program with funding to be initiated for nascent countries to enable them build capacity to address all the 19 infrastructure issues required by the IAEA for such countries.

& & &

Argentina Restarts Work on CAREM-25 SMR

(WNN) A contract has been signed to complete the main concrete works of Argentina’s CAREM-25 small reactor. Henisa Sudamericana will employ up to 250 workers in the work, which is central to the project, according to a government announcement.

The 20-month contract is focused on construction of “all the concrete structures of the CAREM-25 reactor building” and between 230 and 250 workers will be involved, according to an announcement by the government of Argentina.

First concrete was poured for the reactor in February 2014, marking the official start of its construction. However, the project was suspended on several occasions for breach of the construction contract by the national government, during the administration of Mauricio Macri.

In November 2019, work was halted by contractor Techint Engineering & Construction due to late payments from the government, design changes and late delivery of technical documentation. In April 2020, it was announced that construction was to resume but it didn’t.

The CAREM name is taken from Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares. The 32 MWe prototype is Argentina’s first domestically-designed and developed small nuclear power unit. At least 70% of the components and related services for CAREM-25 are to be sourced from Argentine companies. The commercial model ultimately envisaged by CNEA as the basis of a muti-reactor plant would have a higher power of between 100 and 120 MWe.

CAREM is designed as an energy source for electricity supply of regions with small demands. It can also support seawater desalination processes to supply water and energy to coastal sites.

About the CAREM SMR

CAREM is a national SMR development project, based on LWR technology, coordinated by Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) in collaboration with leading nuclear companies in Argentina with the purpose to develop, design and construct innovative small nuclear power plants with high economic competitiveness and level of safety.

CAREM is a natural circulation based indirect-cycle reactor with features that simplify the design and improve safety performance. Its primary circuit is fully contained in the reactor vessel and it does not need any primary recirculation pumps. The self-pressurization is achieved by balancing vapor production and condensation in the vessel, without a separate pressurizer vessel. Some of the significant design characteristics are:

– integrated primary cooling system;
– self-pressurized;
– core cooling by natural circulation;
– in-vessel control rod drive mechanisms;
– safety systems relying on passive features.

CAREM image

CAREM is an integral type PWR, based on indirect steam cycle with features that simplify the design and support the objective of achieving a higher level of safety. CAREM reactor was developed using domestic technology, at least 70% of the components and related services for CAREM were sourced from Argentinean companies.

& & &

Russia / First Batch Of Remix Fuel For VVER Reactors Passes Acceptance Tests

(NucNet) The first batch of uranium-plutonium Remix nuclear fuel for Russian VVER-1000 reactors has been manufactured and passed acceptance tests at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk, south-central Russia, state nuclear fuel company Tvel said in a Rosatom Press Statement.

Each of the batch of six fuel assemblies consists of Remix fuel rods with uranium-plutonium pellets instead of the  enriched uranium dioxide. Each VVER-1000 assembly contains 312 fuel rods.

Since 2016, three fuel assemblies, each containing six experimental Remix fuel rods, have been undergoing pilot operation at Unit 3 of the Balakovo nuclear power station. The third 18-month cycle of their irradiation began in 2020 and was completed this year.

Since 2016, Remix fuel assemblies have been in test use at the Balakovo-3 VVER-1000 nuclear power unit, about 900km southeast of Moscow, where a testing program was completed in 2021.

Tvel said that unlike uranium-plutonium fuel for fast reactors, Remix fuel has a lower plutonium content, up to 1.5%, but its neutron spectrum does not differ from standard enriched uranium fuel, which makes it usable in existing reactors without changes to their design or additional safety measures.

According to a report in World Nuclear News, REMIX (from Regenerated Mixture) fuel is made from uranium and plutonium recovered as an unseparated mixture from previously used fuel. They are topped up with low-enriched uranium to give a fuel that performs within the same parameters as fuel made only from fresh low-enriched uranium. (See also an IAEA Briefing on REMIX fuel.

The cycle of reprocessing, recycling and top-up can be repeated as many as five times, with waste fission products removed each time and vitrified in glass ready for permanent geological disposal. In theory, a new reactor could operate for its whole design life of 60 years on just three REMIX fuel loads, circulating them on a continuous basis.

remix fuel rosatom

In August 2020 Rosatom approved investment to set up a full manufacturing line for REMIX fuel. The uranium-plutonium fuel pellets will be made at the Mining and Chemical Combine in Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk region, where there is already a large storage facility for VVER-1000 fuel. The pellets will be manufactured into finished fuel assemblies at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk in the Tomsk region of Russia.

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