UK PM Boris Johnson Makes a Big Promise on Nuclear Energy. Can He Keep it?

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  • UK PM Johnson Makes a Big Promise on Nuclear Energy. Can He Keep it?
  • UK Government and EDF Take Equity Stakes in Sizewell C
  • Bulgaria / Ministry Signs Deals To Support Key Energy Projects
  • China / Second Hualong One Reactor Begins Commercial Operation At Fuqing
  • New X-Ray Technique at INL Provides Novel Images Of Triso Nuclear Fuel
  • New Report “ESG Frameworks and Advanced Nuclear Energy” – NIA
  • U.S. Brings Criminal Indictments Against Three Russian FSB Officers for Hacking a US Nuclear Energy Plant

UK PM Johnson Makes a Big Promise on Nuclear Energy. Can He Keep it?

According to media reports, Johnson said he wants the UK to get 25% of its electricity from nuclear power, up from the current 16%. However, almost half of the country’s current nuclear generating capacity is due to be retired by 2025 and all but one of its reactors will retire by 2030.

The UK has overall from all sources 76 GWe of electrical generating capacity. A 25% target for nuclear energy would represent about 19 GWe which is the original target set for new nuclear energy generating capacity at least a decade ago by prior administrations.

UK nuclear projects

In effect, Johnson’s promise is not new. The question is whether, unlike his predecessors, he will be successful in organizing the huge financial commitment of a combination of government and investor financing to pay for it.

Several major projects have fallen by the wayside due to an inability by the project sponsors to attract a combination of government funding and sufficient investor confidence to proceed. The sites include a total of just over 9 GWe or 47% of Johnson’s goal.

  • Wlyfa & Oldbury (four 1350 MWe ABWRs),
  • Moorside (three 1150 MWe AP1000s) and
  • Bradwell (two 1000 MWe Hualong One)

The Bradwell site, which was supposed to be built by a Chinese state-owned nuclear energy enterprise, has all but been taken out of the running due to complaints by the UK government about “security concerns.” China inked the deal to build the reactors in return for equity stakes in the Hinkley Point and Sizewell projects.  EDF, which is building the four reactors, two at each site, is now scrambling to replace the Chinese financing with a combination of  western investors and government funding. It has a long way to go to raise the tens of billions in cash needed to build all found 1700 MWe reactors.

Current State of Play for New UK Nuclear Reactors

Currently, the UK has two 1720 MWe EDF EPRs under construction at the Hinkley Point C site and plans to build two similar units at the Sizewell C site for the total of about 7 GWe or about 37% of John’s goal.

Financing the Sizewell C project is still to be determined but an effort to use the RAB method, similar to CWIP used for the twin AP1000s being built at the Vogle site in Georgia in the US, is moving through the UK Parliament and is expected to pass. (Update: it passed)

Taken together, the 9 GWe of projects that have been mothballed and Sizewell C, the total capacity that needs financing comes to just over 12 GWe. At $6,500/Kw, the “overnight cost” in constant dollars would be $78 billion.

While the UK would not start all the construction at once, over a 20 year period the cost, in constant dollars, would work out to about $4 billion/year. Additional costs would come in for grid improvements for each new site.

Can Rolls Royce Build its Fleet of Mid-Range PWRs?

Another factor that could change the expected cost of keeping Johnson’s promise is the plan by Rolls Royce to build a fleet of 16 470 MWe mid-range PWR type reactors. The plants could be built in pairs at various sites which would add resilience to the overall electrical grid for the UK.

If all 16 plants are built by the early 2040s, the total capacity would be 7.5 GWE which is equal to the four EPRs being built at the Hinkley Point and Sizewell sites. Seen another way, the Rolls Royce fleet would easily equal the combination of the Wlyfa, Oldbury, and Moorside projects.

For its part, Rolls Royce says that its reactors would be assembled in part in a factory, and completed on site. Components would be manufactured for the most part by a UK supply chain which would cut costs along with the us of repeatable on-site construction processes.

The UK has been providing some financial assistance to Rolls Royce in the range of several hundred million pounds but major funding and investment commitments for the planned fleet of 16 units in the range of billions of  pounds is still in the future.

Johnson Meets the UK Nuclear Industry

As a kickoff to his plan for 19 GWe of new nuclear power, PM Johnson hosted a roundtable at Downing Street on March 21st with leaders from the nuclear industry to discuss how to improve domestic energy security and rapidly accelerate nuclear projects in the UK.

Johnson said nuclear energy needs to be a major part of the UK’s future energy system as a clean, reliable and safe energy source. He set out the government’s commitment to supporting the industry to develop a pipeline of future nuclear projects in the UK in a cost-effective way. He did not provide any details on how this objective will be met or what government commitments would be needed to support it.

Industry representatives set out the various technologies and projects they are developing, from larger nuclear power plants to small modular reactors, capitalizing on both British and international expertise. In addition to Rolls-Royce, several US and UK based developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) are working to enter the UK market.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “I think if you look over the last 30 years, governments have taken quite short-term views and this is nowhere more apparent than in nuclear,”

Kwarteng also said in a video posted later on Twitter. “Our attitude to nuclear energy, frankly, I think has been woeful.”

Organizations who attended included: Nuclear Industry Association, Aviva Investors, Balfour Beatty, Bechtel Group Incorporated, EDF Energy, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, L&G, MACE, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Nuclear Power Jacobs, NuScale, Rolls Royce, Rothesay Life, Westinghouse Electric Company, Urenco and USS.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association said, “Accelerating nuclear projects is absolutely essential to keep energy costs down, cut expensive gas imports and strengthen our energy security as we move towards net-zero.”

“That means urgently investing in a fleet of large and small nuclear stations, alongside renewable investment, to deliver the clean, sovereign power we need.”

The roundtable comes ahead of the publication of the government’s Energy Security Strategy due later this month, with renewable energy, nuclear and domestic gas all a crucial part of achieving its aims.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Helen Whately also attended the industry roundtable.   (WNN contributed to this report)

UK Government and EDF Take Equity Stakes in Sizewell C

The BBC reported on Sunday March 27th that the UK government plans to take a 20% stake in a £20 billion large-scale nuclear plant at Sizewell C. French developer EDF will also take a 20% stake in the Suffolk power station. Taken together, the combined 40% stake is worth £8 billion,

In January, the UK government invested £100m in Sizewell C, with the aim of boosting investor confidence. This second push would take its investment up to £4bn, based on the estimated final project cost.

Government ministers are said to be hopeful that the establishment of two key investors will attract infrastructure investors and pension funds to take up the remaining 60%. A key confidence building measure by the government will be the passage of the RAB finance method for Sizewell C which is pending in Parliament.

The £20bn in capital (at current prices) is expected to be by equity – or cash up front – and the remainder in debt borrowed from financial markets.

Legislation allowing construction and financing costs to be added to customer bills, as Sizewell C is built over the next decade, is due for a second reading in the House of Commons next month. It made it through the Lords without changes and is expected to become law in the coming weeks having received strong support from MPs.

Nuclear industry experts say proposed reforms to EU-wide financial regulations (Solvency II) will make it easier for pension funds and insurance companies to invest in long-term infrastructure assets like nuclear.

The Sizewell C plant is composed of two pressurized water reactors (PWR) to be built by EDF and are expected to be rated at about 1700 MWe electrical each. It will be nearly identical to the Hinkley Point C project which is now under construction. Each plant is expected to provide 7% of total electricity needed in the UK once they enter revenue service.

Costs for both plants are expected to increase from the initial estimates due to demand for concrete, steel, and fabricated components including non-nuclear items like turbines and switchyard equipment.

& & &

Bulgaria / Ministry Signs Deals To Support Key Energy Projects, Including Nuclear Reactors and Fuel

(NucNet)  Bulgaria’s energy ministry has signed a memorandum of cooperation with US-based IP3 International and UKbased Gemcorp Capital Management to support the planning and implementation of clean energy projects, including the development of nuclear energy. The government said that the agreement could bring $1 Billion of investment to the country.

The ministry in a statement on the agreements, signed in the presence of Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov, said the development of plans for the use and management of nuclear fuel is one of the “strategic” goals for the agreement.

Bulgaria has two Russia-made VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor units in commercial operation at Kozloduy. The two plants, inherited from the socialist era, provide about a third of the country’s electricity

Mr Petkov said Bulgaria is exploring potential suppliers of nuclear reactors and is starting a feasibility study as it pushes ahead with plans to cooperate with Greece on a shared nuclear power project that could help the two countries overcome their dependence on Russian natural gas.

map bulgaria

The two countries share a long common border  A new, second, overhead 400 kv electric line will soon connect Greece and Bulgaria. This new interconnection line between the substations Maritsa East in Bulgaria and Nea Santa in Greece will be  approximately 150 km (93 miles) long.

Other areas of cooperation include ensuring alternative gas supplies for Bulgaria, increasing regional energy security, and developing low-carbon projects to support the green energy transition.

About the Consulting Firms Helping Bulgaria

IP3 is Virginia-based nuclear technology company and consultancy. According to its website, it helps clients with “the development and operations of peaceful and secure nuclear power in the global marketplace.” London-based Gemcorp is an asset management firm specializes in energy and commodities investment on emerging markets.

Separately, in September 2021 IP3 a contract with ZE PAK, the largest private energy group in Poland, to provide consultancy on the implementation of its plans to deploy small modular reactor plants.

Bulgaria To Fast Track Plans To Build A New Nuclear Reactor

(Euractiv) The Bulgarian government plans to build at least one nuclear reactor at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant on the banks of the Danube.

“The Ministry of Energy has started a study for the rapid construction of another nuclear reactor, most likely in Kozloduy because this is a ready-made site with an environmental assessment and a working team,” said Deputy Prime Minister Asen Vassilev.

He said that if the project starts this year, the reactor will begin operating between 2028 and 2030. Vassilev explained that Bulgaria could build a second new nuclear reactor to have a total of four operating nuclear power units. Vassilev revealed two weeks ago that Greece is interested in buying electricity from a future new nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Taken together the two plants, if built at 1000 MWe each, could cost at a minimum about $10-12 billion.

Given the current hostilities in Ukraine, Bulgaria government sources said it is out of the question to complete two partially built Rosatom VVERs at the Belene site.

Bulgaria And Greece Intensify Cooperation In The Energy Sector

(Balkan Green Energy News)  Government officials in Athens and Sofia are discussing prospects for a bilateral agreement on deliveries of nuclear power from Bulgaria to Greece.

Bulgarian prime minister Kiril Petkov told his Greek counterparts, “You need cheaper electricity. We have nuclear energy, and you don’t. By combining these two things, we can work together as good neighbors and build long-term relationships by constructing a mutually beneficial nuclear power plant as a vital alternative to address the energy deficit in our region.”

“We are considering potential suppliers and conducting a rapid study of the feasibility,” Petkov said, adding that he hopes that in 12 months his cabinet would have a clear picture about it and that a concrete proposal would follow.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the country has no plans to build nuclear facilities because of the risk of earthquakes in the region. He added that Greece already imports electricity from Bulgaria, part of which comes from the Kozloduy nuclear power plant

The Greek government aims to conclude long-term bilateral contracts with Bulgaria that would ensure a stable supply of energy at very low prices and contribute to the competitiveness of the country’s economy.

& & &

China / Second Hualong One Reactor Begins Commercial Operation At Fuqing

(NucNet) Unit 6 of the Fuqing nuclear power station in Fujian province, southeastern China, began commercial operation on March 25th, owner China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said.

Fuqing-6, a domestic Generation III Hualong One pressurized water reactor, becomes the second Hualong One design to begin commercial operation in China after its twin unit Fuqing-5 was first to begin commercial operation in February 2021. China has 10 other identical units under construction at 5 sites, plus overseas plants in Pakistan.

hualong one

Image: Ji Xing, Daiyong Song, Yuxiang Wu – (from PDF version of paper) Journal: Engineering. 2 (1). doi:10.1016/J.ENG.2016.01.017

The Hualong One, or HPR1000, is an indigenous 1,100 MW, three-loop pressurized water reactor. It incorporates elements of China National Nuclear Corporation’s ACP1000 and China General Nuclear’s ACPR1000+ reactor designs.

Construction of Fuqing-6 started in December 2015 and the unit achieved first criticality in December 2021, followed by full power in February 2022.

There are six units at the Fuqing site – four domestic CNP1000s and two Hualong One units. All are now commercially operational.

According the International Atomic Energy Agency, China has 10 other Hualong One units under construction domestically at five sites – two each at Zhangzhou, Taipingling, Fangchenggang, Changjiang and Sanaocun, also known as Zhejiang Sanao and San’ao.

China has two Hualong One nuclear plant projects overseas – Kanupp-2 and -3 near Karachi, Pakistan. Kanupp-2 began commercial operation in May 2021, while Kanupp-3 was connected to the national grid earlier this month.

& & &

New X-Ray Technique Provides Novel Images Of Triso Nuclear Fuel

(Eureaka Press Alerts/AAAS) For the first time researchers at Idaho National Laboratory have adapted a commercially available X-ray microscope to examine the internal structure of the uranium kernels inside irradiated TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) particles. The particles were irradiated for 560 days in INL’s Advanced Test Reactor.

triso fuel

This technological leap in nuclear fuel imaging can help researchers identify mechanisms of fuel degradation and collect data to inform computer models of nuclear fuels. That data helps companies develop and qualify fuels for their reactor designs.

(TRISO), consists of a kernel of uranium-based fuel surrounded by three layers of carbon- and ceramic-based materials chemically and structurally resistant to degradation in a reactor environment.

The resulting fuel particle is roughly the size of a poppy seed and can withstand temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, well beyond the threshold of current nuclear fuels, without melting or releasing significant quantities of fission products.

As more reactor companies look to TRISO particles to power their designs, understanding how these tiny fuel particles perform on the microscopic scale is vitally important.

In the past, researchers used X-rays to successfully examine the carbon and ceramic layers of TRISO fuel coatings. But high-quality X-ray images of the uranium kernel interior have been elusive.

The new method uses X-ray computed tomography, a technique that takes multiple 2D X-ray images of a specimen. A computer then assembles those 2D images into a 3D image for examination. (YouTube video)

The new technique allows researchers to image the entire TRISO particle nondestructively. They can then use destructive techniques such as optical microscopy or scanning electron microscopy to zoom in on interesting details.

The technique is also useful for examining fuel elements, where thousands of TRISO particles are embedded in a matrix material for insertion into a reactor. In the end, these models and data will help reactor developers qualify their fuels and navigate the regulatory process.

& & &

New Report “ESG Frameworks and Advanced Nuclear Energy” – NIA

nia esgThe Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) released a new report, “ESG Frameworks and Advanced Nuclear Energy.” This new publication provides an introduction to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) frameworks and how they may affect advanced nuclear energy technologies and projects.

It includes potential actions the nuclear industry and financial community should consider to promote consistent analytical treatment of nuclear energy within ESG frameworks and efficient access to capital for nuclear investments.

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald said the relevance of this work applies ongoing efforts to foster greater investment in advanced nuclear energy technologies:

“The underlying objective of ESG frameworks is to create interest in potential investments with positive ESG attributes, therefore improving access to and decreasing the cost of capital for those investments. Nuclear energy technologies are particularly affected by the inconsistent treatment of some frameworks regarding the ESG attributes of energy technologies.”

“With consistent, unbiased, and analytical frameworks, advanced nuclear energy would be evaluated as a zero-carbon energy source and potentially be treated similarly to other such sources. However, ESG frameworks have diverse origins, and some retain outdated or arbitrary approaches that exclude nuclear energy. As frameworks are standardized and embedded in policy, if their flaws are not addressed, advanced nuclear energy could be left at a disadvantage in terms of access to capital.”

The report is the latest in a series of studies in ways to address barriers to commercializing advanced nuclear energy technologies and to take advantage of opportunities to speed up commercialization of these designs. NIA also testifies before congress on these matters. The NIA’s mission is to bring economically competitive zero-carbon energy to the world by supporting entrepreneurialism and accelerated innovation and commercialization of advanced nuclear energy systems.

Prior Coverage on this blog

& & &

U.S. Brings Criminal Indictments Against Three Russian FSB Officers for Hacking Nuclear Energy Plant

hackers(DOJ/Wire Services) U.S. authorities have indicted three Russian intelligence officers on charges of hacking U.S. nuclear companies and other energy infrastructure for nearly six years.

The federal indictments, issued in 2021 but only unsealed on March 24,2022, were the latest in a series of accusations showing the scope and skill of Russia’s state-sponsored spies and hackers and their efforts to penetrate U.S. energy-related computer systems, private and public.

“Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement announcing the indictments.

“Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity, they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defenses and remain vigilant. Alongside our partners here at home and abroad, the Department of Justice is committed to exposing and holding accountable state-sponsored hackers who threaten our critical infrastructure with cyber-attacks.”

In the new indictments, U.S. authorities accuse the three officers from the FSB’s Center 16 of hacking hundreds of computers system from energy companies in the United States and other countries. According to the indictment, the three used spear phishing attacks that targeted more than 3,300 users at more than 500 U.S. and international companies. They also targeted U.S. government agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas was one of the sites that was subjected to a cyber attack. Russian hackers breached business systems, but did not reach any safety related computers which are separated by design from the administrative side of the plant.

In a May 2017 cyberattack on Wolf Creek the Russian hackers compromised stored malware on the business network. They then harvested  employee credentials to aid in the efforts to compromise the network. The effort failed and Wolf Creek turned over forensic information to the FBI.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has already released numerous Technical Alerts, ICS Alerts and Malware Analysis Reports regarding Russia’s malign cyber activities, including the campaigns discussed in the indictments. These are located at:

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