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- White House Launches “Bold Vision” for Fusion Energy
- DOE Announces $50 Million for Fusion R&D
- Dark Fission Launches Effort to Bring Nuclear Thermal Rockets to Market
- Dow CEO Weighs Buying Nuclear Power from SMRs
- Belgium Postpones Nuclear Phase-out for Two Reactors
- INL’s Advanced Test Reactor Overhaul Complete
- Barakah / Unit 2 Begins Commercial Operation
- Mitsubishi Electric to Develop I&C System Design for Holtec International’s SMR-160
White House Launches “Bold Vision” for Fusion Energy
(NucNet contributed to this report) At a White House meeting held March 17th that was streamed on the Internet for public viewing the White House said it is developing “a bold vision” to accelerate the deployment of nuclear fusion.
The Department of Energy has been tasked to develop a strategy to accelerate the viability of commercial fusion energy in partnership with the private sector.
DOE will launch an agency-wide initiative, coordinated across program offices, to develop a ten-year strategy to accelerate the viability of commercial fusion energy in partnership with the private sector.
The 2021 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report “Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid” serves as a guiding document for the new initiative. The initiative will be facilitated by a new DOE Lead Fusion Coordinator reporting to the Undersecretary for Science and Innovation.
The US-based Fusion Industry Association, an international coalition of companies in the fusion industry, said it is critical that the US Congress provides ample funding to fusion energy research, development, and deployment.
“Funding for the Department of Energy’s fusion energy sciences program should be significantly increased, and a new public-private partnership program to support milestone-based investments into private fusion companies must be initiated,” the association said. “Fusion simply cannot wait another budget cycle to get started.”
DOE Secretary Granholm said the Biden administration has set aside $50m to help build a fusion energy facility in the US. She said that of the more than 30 fusion companies in the world, two-thirds are based in the US and most were founded in the last decade.
US government action on fusion “signals our ambition to work together to grow the US private fusion industry,” a White House statement said.
“By partnering with these companies, we have an opportunity to keep these companies growing within our borders and cement US technological leadership on fusion.”
This year Congress included $45 million for a new fusion program in which private companies will partner with DOE to build new fusion energy devices. It’s part of a record investment in fusion that will add more than $700 million to DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences program.
But Granholm poured cold water on what some have seen as exaggerated claims for short time lines as to when fusion will be deployed as a new carbon-free energy source.
“We’ve got to manage expectations, as well. There’s a reason why fusion is hard. So it’s going to take time: Even as we are making amazing progress, we have to be careful about over promising, and we have to be realistic,” she said.
The UK Atomic Energy Agency, which has its own ambitious plans for fusion and it is aggressively funding them, thinks that the first prototype of a commercial unit won’t be ready until 2040. That fact didn’t deter other administration officials from expressing their support for the technology.
“We can lead the world with new energies and innovation and that is exactly what we are doing and why we are gathered here today,” White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said.
“We have to act on climate change so our country can win the 21st-century economy, and that’s what fusion helps to present us with—tremendous opportunities as well as challenges we know.”
“Going forward, DOE is going to be coordinating all fusion energy research under one umbrella to seize the opportunity to advance the technology,” Granholm said. This effort will be led by Scott Hsu, currently leader of fusion program at the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
The two funding opportunities would support the “basic design” of a pilot fusion plant, Granholm said. “It’s not enough. It’s a start – but we just want to make sure we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
“Our effort with OSTP (the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) is going to be focused on more than just innovation. It’s about building out a fusion energy workforce that is diverse, that is equitable, that’s inclusive … and we want to make sure that we are establishing trust in this technology among the public.”
Another speaker at the White House event framed fusion energy as “the renewable source of the future.”
“We need firm energy resources, ones that you can turn on when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine,” said Steven Cowley, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.*
“Some of the companies next to me, and some of the others around the country and around the world, are building proof-of-concept machines—machines that will show that fusion works,” said Andrew Holland, the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association. “We call this our Kitty Hawk moment: not the time when you sell the airplane, but the time when the airplane flies.”
Holland predicted that the industry’s main challenge in the 2030s wouldn’t be “a scientific problem or even an engineering problem, but a manufacturing problem. How fast can you build?”
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DOE Announces $50 Million for Fusion R&D
In concert with the White House confab on fusion, the Department of Energy Announced $50 Million for Fusion Research at Tokamak and Spherical Tokamak Facilities. The money will support U.S. scientists conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Geraldine Richmond, DOE Under Secretary for Science and Innovation made the announcement in Washington, DC.
“Both the tokamak and spherical tokamak configurations show promise as a design basis for a future domestic fusion pilot plant,” said James Van Dam, DOE Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences.
“The advances we make through research at facilities in the U.S. and abroad through international collaboration will address key challenges in magnetically confined fusion devices and play a critical role as the world enters the burning plasma era.”
Up to $20 million will support research at spherical tokamak facilities to improve the modeling and scientific understanding of plasmas. The funding will support teams of U.S. scientists conducting research on domestic as well as international spherical tokamak facilities.
A collaborative effort will take place with the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak Upgrade in the UK. Joint research topics will range from studies of the interplay between hot plasmas and the surrounding solid material surfaces to studies assessing internal plasma fluctuations that lead to losses of heat.
Up to $30 million will support research to improve fusion performance and increase the duration of burning plasma scenarios. Efforts will address urgent research topics including refining strategies for handling extreme levels of heat and plasma particles exhausted from tokamak plasmas, understanding the processes that couple the plasma to material structures, and validating burning plasma models and pilot plant design tools.
Together these efforts will build upon ongoing R&D efforts in magnetic fusion, materials science, and fusion nuclear science and investment in Office of Science user facilities.
The DOE Funding Opportunity Announcements, “Collaborative Research on International and Domestic Spherical Tokamaks” and “Collaborative Research in Magnetic Fusion Energy Sciences on International Tokamaks,” are sponsored by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences within the Department’s Office of Science are online here
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Dark Fission Launches Effort to Bring Nuclear Thermal Rockets to Market
Dark Fission Space Systems, an early-stage space start-up, aims to accelerate the expansion of the space economy beyond Low Earth Orbit through the development and deployment of the first commercially available nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engine. The firm promises revolutionary gains in performance, leveraging sixty years of evolving technologies
Led by Dr. Fred Kennedy, the Dark Fission team will combine years of NTR design evolution with modern advances in computing, manufacturing, and materials to produce a safe and reliable in-space propulsion capability with performance characteristics exceeding anything available today.
The frontier of commercial space activity is now extending throughout cislunar space, encompassing Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), the Earth -Moon Lagrange points, and the lunar surface. Because of the immense distances involved, current propulsion solutions are typically either inefficient or very slow. NTR offers both short transit times and very high fuel economy, enabling persistent transportation between numerous orbits of interest.
As DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office Director from 2017 to 2019, Dr. Kennedy originated what has become the agency’s nuclear space propulsion program, DRACO. Dark Fission will collaborate closely with both government and industry partners to pursue the on-orbit demonstration of an operational NTR engine within the next five years. Unlocking the capabilities of an NTR is expected to result in its rapid market adoption for orbital transfer and lunar access services – and open the door to additional opportunities beyond.
Kennedy said advances in the space and manufacturing industries make it possible to “produce a safe and reliable in-space propulsion capability with performance characteristics exceeding anything available today.”
For space activities beyond Earth’s orbit, because of the immense distances involved, current propulsion solutions are typically either inefficient or very slow, said Kennedy. Nuclear thermal rockets could provide short transit times and high fuel economy.
While at DARPA from 2017 to 2019, Kennedy said, he started the agency’s nuclear space propulsion program known as DRACO, short for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations.
Dark Fission will seek government and industry partners to pursue the on-orbit demonstration of an operational nuclear thermal rocket engine within the next five years, said Kennedy. “We’re focused on providing a commercial capability first and foremost, but we won’t rule out work on behalf of the federal government.”
He believes the technology could be used for orbital transfer and lunar access services or by “anyone with an interest in deploying their gear quickly and efficiently to geosynchronous orbit or beyond.”
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Dow CEO Weighs Buying Nuclear Power from SMRs
(Yahoo Finance/Bloomberg) DOW CEO Jim Fitterling said in a talk at the World Petrochemical Conference 2022 in Houston that nuclear power as essential in eliminating carbon emissions from its operations. He said the firm is considering buying electricity from small modular reactors (SMRs) for at least two of its U.S. based plants.
Fitterling said that while DOE is an major user of renewable energy technologies, their intermittent generation profiles means nuclear energy is needed to provide reliable 24×7 power.
“We’re in a process right now looking at two sites in the United States to be an offtaker for a small-scale modular reactor,” he said. Nuclear will become “another tool in the arsenal to take us to net zero.”
Asked about the high costs and risk of nuclear energy, he said some of these obstacles can be overcome if companies back small-scale plants potentially tied to major industrial facilities.
“We need to double down on all forms of energy in this country,” Fitterling said. “If you didn’t think we needed to do that before Russia-Ukraine, you really think we need to do it now.”
He added that the chemical industry needs electricity and process heat in the form of steam from the SMRs.
“A lot of our operations would need that balance,” between electricity and steam, Fitterling said.
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Belgium Postpones Nuclear Phase-out for Two Reactors
Belgium has decided to postpone its nuclear phase-out scheduled for 2025 by ten years, in face of rising energy prices partly due to the Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine
“The federal government has decided to take the necessary measures to extend the life of the two nuclear reactors by ten years,” Prime Minister Alexandre De Croo said in a statement.
“This extension should make it possible to strengthen the independence of our country regarding fossil fuels in a chaotic geopolitical context”, he added.
The Belgian government will extend the life of Doel 4 (1090 MWe) and Tihange 3 (1020 MWe) for 10 years to keep them in operation until 2035.
De Croo also announced an increase in renewable energies through “additional investments” in offshore wind power, hydrogen, solar energy and sustainable mobility.
The Belgian government still needs to negotiate with France’s Engie, the operator of the Doel and Tihange plants which together have seven reactors. However, Engie has expressed reservations about the policy change.
“The decision to extend the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 power plants raises significant safety, regulation and implementation constraints, especially since this extension would take place even though the dismantling activities on neighboring units will have started,” Engie said in a press release.
Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) in January provisionally approved life extension for Tihange 3 and Doel 4 if this proved action necessary to ensure energy security.
“War changes our outlook on energy,” Prime Minister De Croo said during his press conference. “In this way, energy can be guaranteed in the medium and long term,” he stressed. “What we are doing is securing the present and investing in the future.”
Belgium’s government said in December that would continue to invest in future technologies, in particular small modular reactors (SMRs). It did not specify what SMRs it was interested nor a timeline for investments in them.
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INL’s Advanced Test Reactor Overhaul Complete
Workers at Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) have completed an 11-month outage for a core internal change out “overhaul” that occurs about every 10 years to maintain peak performance. During the overhaul, operators and maintenance teams replaced components that wear out over time — akin to rebuilding the engine of a high-performance car.
ATR is the world’s largest, most powerful and flexible materials test reactor. Its distinctive cloverleaf core design provides a range of capabilities that no other can match. The new core components make it possible to continue ATR’s strategic and scientific research missions for another decade or more.
As a centerpiece of the U.S. nuclear energy research infrastructure, the test reactor supports a range of vital missions for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. ATR also supports university research and nuclear industries in the U.S. and around the world. Plus, it creates valuable isotopes for NASA space exploration and medical treatments.
ATR operates at low temperatures and pressures compared to commercial power reactors, which are designed to produce heat. In contrast, ATR’s main job is to produce neutrons. It does so at very high levels. By exposing fuel and material samples to this environment, researchers gain valuable data about the way new materials and designs respond to long-term operations in high-radiation environments.
ATR’s designers knew the neutron levels would take a toll on the reactor’s main internal core components. Engineers tailored ATR’s design to enable replacement of these components through an overhaul process known as the Core Internals Changeout. ATR has been through six core overhauls since it began operations in 1967.
In addition to the reactor itself, the core overhaul outage provided an important opportunity to replace and upgrade other systems and infrastructure within the reactor building and around the ATR Complex. Many of these systems are necessary for operation of ATR and can only be maintained and repaired during plant outages.
These systems include equipment like bridge cranes, electrical switchgear and components of waste handling systems that also gradually wear out. Such infrastructure is routinely inspected and monitored as part of a long-term asset management program and repaired or replaced when needed to ensure ATR can accomplish its important missions.
The recently completed sixth ATR core overhaul began in April 2021. A 3D-animated overview of the overhaul process can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67GhHXiQLxg.
With completion of the overhaul, INL and DOE experts are completing extensive readiness assessments, instrument calibrations and low-power system checks. When those are complete, ATR’s normal research operations will resume this spring.
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Barakah / Unit 2 Begins Commercial Operation
(NucNet) Unit 2 at the Barakah nuclear power station in the United Arab Emirates has begun commercial operation, adding 1,400 MWe of electricity to the national grid and bringing the total produced by Units 1 and 2 at the four-unt facility to 2,800 MW. Two more plants at the UAE facility are in the final stages of commissioning
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) said Barakah is now half way towards its goal of providing 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs through clean electricity whilst rapidly decarbonizing the nation’s power sector.
Unit 2 joins Unit 1, which began commercial operation in April 2021. Construction of Unit 2 began in April 2013.
Enec said Units 3 and 4 are in the final stages of commissioning, with Unit 3 construction already complete and now undergoing operational readiness preparations, and Unit 4 in the final stages of construction completion.
In January, Enec chief executive officer Mohammed al-Hammadi said Unit 3 would start operations in late 2022.
Barakah, in the Al Dhafra region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, is the first commercial nuclear station in the Arab world and one of the largest in the world, with four APR-1400 units supplied by South Korea.
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Mitsubishi Electric to Develop I&C System Design for Holtec International’s SMR-160
Mitsubishi Electric and Holtec began developing preliminary designs for the SMR-160’s I&C under an agreement signed in 2016 and will now accelerate these activities. Holtec, which aims to secure a SMR-160 construction license in 2025, is now considering deployment of a demonstration reactor possibly at the site of the now closed Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey. Holtec is decommissioning the reactor.
In December 2020, Holtec was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to design, engineer and license development of the SMR-160. As a result Holtec issued the purchase order to Mitsubishi Electric to develop a control-room simulator that will be used to verify I&C design and review operation.
Holtec selected Mitsubishi Electric’s MELTAC© controls for the SMR-160 design based on the company’s long experience with nuclear power plant controls. In 2018, Mitsubishi Electric’s MELTAC Nplus S safety control platform was favorably evaluated for use in U.S. nuclear power plants by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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