- INL to Start Testing of Project Pele Micro Reactor in 2024
- NuScale Inks Deal to Build SMRs for Polish Mining Firm
- OPINION – Poland’s Plans for Large Reactors Remain Unfunded
- Funding for Demonstration Lead Cooled Swedish SMR
- Nuclear Fusion / Oxford Company Raises $45 Million In New Funding
INL to Start Testing of Project Pele Micro Reactor in 2024
The Idaho National Laboratory may begin testing a mobile nuclear microreactor prototype (Project Pele) for the Department of Defense as soon as 2024.
At a webinar held in Washington, DC, on 02/16/22 sponsored by a UCAN Power, a trade group, Jeff Waksman, the Project Pele DOD program manager, told attendees the procurement of fuel and hardware will begin this summer. The goal is to have a reactor ready to be deployed by 2029. As to whether the DOD will buy the design, Waksman said the government only purchases energy systems that actually work. (Webinar YouTube Link, Slides)
Waksman said the micro reactor will be used at remote military installations to insure tactical readiness especially in areas where the regional electrical grid is unreliable or vulnerable to interruption of power.
INL Project Pele Program Manager Justin Coleman told a technology conference held in Boise, ID, earlier this month that the new technology would be a “game-changer,” giving the United States an opportunity to “invert the paradigm of military energy.”
The Pele Project could serve as a “pathfinder to advanced nuclear reactors in the commercial sector,” Coleman said, allowing private companies to eventually offer “a high-density energy source” for “remote and strategically important locations in the United States.”
The microreactor, which can fit inside of a 20-foot shipping container, will be able to produce one-to-five MWe of power for three-plus years, offering 2 million times the energy density of diesel fuel, Coleman said. The Department of Defense is requiring that the deployed version of the micro be capable of being fully transportable in semi-truck, set up at any remote site in three days, and be able to be disassembled and moved in seven days.
The micro reactor is needed to replace diesel fuel for powering electric generation at remote military site. Fuel transportation, which is vulnerable to enemy attacks over long supply lines, would not be necessary in these locations if mobile nuclear reactors, and their associated power conversion systems, were set up.
The Department of Defense (DOD) said in March 2021 of this year that it exercised contract options for two teams, one led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and the other by X-energy, to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable advanced nuclear microreactor prototype. The two teams were selected from a preliminary design competition, and will each continue development independently.
Final EIS Released
The Department of Defense (DoD), acting through the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and with the Department of Energy (DOE) serving as a cooperating agency, announce this week the release of the Final Construction and Demonstration of a Prototype Mobile Microreactor Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
SCO prepared the EIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the Proposed Action to construct and operate a prototype mobile microreactor capable of producing 1 to 5 megawatts of electrical power (MWe). The Final EIS is available at https://www.mobilemicroreactoreis.com The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will publish the Notice of the FEIS in the Federal Register on February 25, 2022.
Test Plans at INL
The reactor will be fabricated off-site then moved to INL for low-power initial testing at the National Reactor Innovation Center’s (NRIC) facility for Demonstration and Operation of Microreactor Experiments (DOME).
After the initial testing phase is completed the reactor will be moved to a more remote, independent grid at INL equipped with transmission and communication lines. Fuel will be loaded in the reactor and it will be tested for all aspects of its intended operation.
The fuel is made of tristructural isotropic particles (TRISO), enriched to 19.7% U235, each of which contains a “kernel” of uranium, carbon and oxygen that is “wrapped up” in three layers of carbon- and ceramic-based materials.
BWXT Technologies is manufacturing the fuel, which INL plans to purchase for microreactor demonstrations. The firm will create the TRISO fuel by down blending highly enriched fuel (HEU) originally fabricated for DOD missions at the Y-12 site.
DOD and DOE will handle the licensing of the reactor which will be limited to providing power for military bases and which will not wheel power to the regional grid. Commercial versions of the micro reactor spun off from Project Pele would have to go through the NRC’s safety design review and licensing processes to be offered by reactor vendors to customers.
Jump Starting the Micro and SMR Industries
At the UCAN Power webinar Ted Garrish, former DOE Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, said the best way to advocate for industry led development of micro and small modular reactors would be to create a consortium like Sematech which in 1986 helped revive the semiconductor industry in the US in response to competition from Japan.
According to MIT Technology Review, Sematech has become a model for how industry and government can work together to restore manufacturing industries—or help jump-start new ones.
Rich Powell, CEO at ClearPath, an advocacy group, said Project Pele represents a high degree of risk tolerance for new nuclear technologies that can potentially be transferred to the civilian sector.
In a video-taped message, Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski told attendees that she fully supports ongoing efforts to deploy micro and small modular reactors for the nation and in her state including one slated for a military site.
The US Air Force has confirmed the Eielson base in Alaska as the facility planned to host its first small nuclear power plant. A microreactor of up to 5 MWe could be operational there as soon as 2027 according to the USAF.
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NuScale Inks Deal to Build SMRs for Polish Mining Firm
(NucNet) contributed to this report) US based NuScale announced this week it signed a follow-on agreement to its September 2021 MOU with Polish mining conglomerate Polska Miedz S.A. (KGHM).
The new agreement lays out a series of process steps to deploy NuScale’s 77 MWe SMR, to replace coal fired power plants, at one or more of the mining firm’s sites by 2029.
The first task under the agreement will identify and assess potential project sites and develop project planning milestones and cost estimates. These activities support KGHM as it evaluates NuScale SMR to replace existing coal fired power plants.
KGHM CEO Marcin Chludzinski said at the signing ceremony that the project is strategic for his company, which is Poland’s second-largest industrial energy consumer. The company reportedly generates up to a quarter of its energy needs from its four coal and gas-fired cogeneration plants, which have a combined generation capacity of 100 MWe.
KGHM is involved in the mining and processing of valuable natural resources. It has the largest deposit of copper ore in Europe, located in south-western Poland. Currently the company has a geographically diversified mine project profile.
NuScale conducted a study in the US which estimated that a substantial amount of the existing infrastructure for a coal plant, such the plant’s cooling water delivery systems, site fire protection and existing transmission system connection could be reused for a NuScale SMR.
John Hopkins, NuScale’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the retirement of aging coal-fired power plants is leading to changes in power generation, infrastructure needs, and workforce opportunity.
Chludzinski said SMR technology will substantially reduce the company’s operational costs. He said KGHM plans to generate power commercially to help in “the green transformation” of Poland and bring down costs for the average household. Apparently, the company has a vision of becoming an independent power producer in commercial electrical generation markets in addition to supply power to its mines.
The U.S. Department of Energy weighed in on the deal with praise for the joint effort. “We are always thrilled when we see U.S. companies furthering our country’s energy leadership by advancing our innovative technologies for global applications,” said Andrew Griffith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Supply Chain.
The U.S. government International Trade Administration estimates that in Poland hard coal, accounted for 47% of primary energy production in 2020, followed by lignite (24.9 %), natural gas (9.1 %), crude oil (1.6%) and renewables (10.75 %). More than 6% of Poland’s energy was produced by industrial power plants.
The deployment of the NuScale plant by 2029 is directly tied to the Climate policy of KGHM Polska Miedz The press announcement said that once operational, the installed reactor technology would help Poland avoid up to eight million tons of CO2 emissions per year. As an approximation, complete combustion of 1 short ton (2,000 pounds) bituminous coal will generate about 5,720 pounds (2.86 short tons) of carbon dioxide.
NuScale said one of the factors that brought HGHM to the table is the fact that in August 2020, NuScale became the first SMR to receive design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
NuScale said that “it maintains strong program momentum toward commercialization of its SMR technology, including supply chain development, standard plant design, planning of plant delivery activities and startup and commissioning plans.”
In the US, NuScale announced earlier this month it told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a letter that it expects to submit a combined license application for the Carbon Free Power Project’s SMR plant in Idaho in January 2024. ( ML22028A277 )
NuScale announced plans in December to go public via a merger with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp. A number of recent announcements like this one are intended to boost investor confidence in the proposed merger.
The press statement did not address the question of how may of the 77 MWe SMR modules would be built for KGHM. The current design can accommodate up to 12 77MWe power modules, resulting in a total gross output of 924 MWe. NuScale also offers smaller scalable power plant solutions – the four-module (308 MW) and six-module (462 MW).
At the signing ceremony for this latest agreement held in Washington, DC, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin, said “As part of the cooperation we plan to develop and build four small modular SMR nuclear reactors, with an option to expand to 12, with an installed capacity of about 1 GWe.”
“Hopefully, in about seven or eight years, the first SMR will be operational in Poland,” he said.
NuScale’s announcement is the latest in a series of SMR-related developments in Poland. Also in September, NuScale signed an MOU with Getka Group and Unitmot to explore the deployment of its SMR at coal-fired power plant sites in Poland.
Competition for SMRs in Poland
Separately, Synthos Green Energy and ZE Pak said they would work together to explore building GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) BWRX-300 or other US SMRs at the site of the Patnow coal plant about 200 KM west of Warsaw.
And in December 2021, Polish state-owned fuels and energy company PKN Orlen and Synthos signed an agreement to establish a joint venture that aims to commercialize microreactor and small modular reactor technologies in Poland and in particular GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH) BWRX-300.
GEH recent signed an MOU with BWXT Canada to fabricate key components of the BWRX-300 if these deals go through.
Prior coverage on this blog
OPINION – Poland’s Plans for Large Reactors Remain Unfunded
The Polish government is also seeking to construct between 6 GWe and 9 GWe of generation III or III+ large scale pressurized water reactors, e.g., 1000-to-1200 MWe or five-to-eight major power stations. Warsaw is seeking to commission the first reactor by 2033 and build out the rest by the early 2040s. This is a very ambitious plan for a country that has no prior experience building nuclear power plants. To do so it must find partner(s) willing to take, collectively, a 49% equity stake in the project. At $5,000/KW, the low end of the plan would cost $30 billion and at the high end at least $45 billion.
The fact is that Polish private firms, which are industrial giants in their own right, are not waiting for the government to cut the mustard. They are pursuing business plans to build SMRs for electricity generation and process heat. This development is a clear signal of no confidence in the government’s paper plans for large reactors. The business community has lost patience with the Polish government’s repeated failures to put together a credible and funded nuclear energy program.
Over the years, as far as the government is concerned, it has not been able to attract investors to put up this kind of money ($30B) for this purpose. While it has as yet unrealized hopes of getting a U.S. partner for one or more of these reactors, it isn’t clear whether financial support in the range of billions of US dollars is likely to be made available from the U.S. government.
Objections may also be raised in Congress which would likely balk at sending this kind of money overseas when there are critical infrastructure needs at home. To put it in stark terms, a highway bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh the morning President Biden visited the city to promote his domestic programs.
During the Trump era, then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an offer of $18B to Poland to build nuclear power plants. The objective was to keep Russia, and to some extent China, out of the eastern European market. The “promise” expired with the 2020 election results. There has not been any public indication the current administration is considering it.
On the ground in Europe the Polish government, with its authoritarian policies, has engaged in self-destructive disputes with the European Union as a result of the efforts of Polish President Andrzej Duda to hobble the country’s judiciary, plus assaults on human rights, placing limits on the news media, and getting entangled in other related political issues. For its part the EU reacted with uncommon vigor and withheld financial support as a result of these legal and political conflicts between democracy and state security.
These factors don’t add up to supporting the kind of long-term stability a massive state-sponsored energy program needs for a major nuclear energy program. No private investor nor publicly trade US firm, which must face the test of being a prudent investor relative to development costs, is going to proceed to sign on to build a government sponsored nuclear power plant under these conditions. The instability of the incumbent regime, and the long timeline to build and commission a 1000 MWe or larger reactor, up to ten years, are just not compatible with each other.
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Funding for Demonstration Lead Cooled Swedish SMR
(WNN) The Swedish Energy Agency has awarded Swedish Modular Reactors AB – a joint venture between Uniper Sweden and LeadCold – funding of (USD10.6 million) in support of the construction of a demonstration LeadCold SEALER (Swedish Advanced Lead Reactor) lead-cooled small modular reactor at the Oskarshamn plant site.
The 1:56 scale prototype will be operated for five years starting in 2024 for testing and verifying materials and technology in an environment of molten lead at high temperatures. The SEALER design is claimed to generate 3-10 MWe and operate over a 10-30 year period without refueling.
LeadCold is designing a multi-unit SEALER-55 concept that may be deployed on existing nuclear power sites in Sweden in the 2030s, if market conditions are right.
Uniper Sweden, LeadCold and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) announced in February 2021 they would collaborate to explorr the possibility of constructing a demonstration LeadCold SEALER reactor at the Oskarshamn plant site by 2030.
An academic network based at KTH is connected to the project. The Sunrise (Sustainable Nuclear Research In Sweden) project – whose partners include KTH, Luleå University and Uppsala University – has already received (USD6 million) in funding from the Foundation for Strategic Research to develop the design, material technology and safety analysis for an advanced lead-cooled research and demonstration reactor.
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Nuclear Fusion / Oxford Company Raises $45 Million In New Funding
(NucNet) UK-based nuclear technology company First Light Fusion has raised a further $45M from existing and new investors to accelerate the development of its experimental programme in 2022. First Light Fusion says it wants to demonstrate fusion using what it says is a unique approach to inertial confinement fusion.
In 2022, First Light Fusion said it wants to speed up its “gain” experiment, in which the amount of energy generated in its proposed process is higher that the energy used to spark the reaction.
First Light Fusion was spun out from the University of Oxford in July 2011, with seed capital from IP Group, Parkwalk Advisors Ltd and private investors. Invesco and OSI provided follow-on capital.
Recent Fusion Industry Funding Milestones
The funding round for First Light comes less than a week after the UKAEA Joint European Torus laboratory announced a breakthrough in developing practical nuclear fusion
In December, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems raised a huge Series B of more than $1.8 billion led by Tiger Global.
British Columbia-based General Fusion raised a $130 million Series E which included an investment by Jeff Bezos.
In early November 2021, Everett, Washington-based Helion Energy closed a $500 million Series E led by Sam Altman with an opportunity for an additional $1.7 billion tied to reaching performance milestones.
While an enormous amount of high risk venture capital has poured into this technology sector, commercial installations might not be built for customers until the 2040s. The UK Atomic Energy Authority has plans for its first prototype by the end of the 2030s. The use of artificial intelligence to control the fusion reaction may speed up the technology development process.
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