- California May Yet Save Diablo Canyon with Federal Credits
- Nuclear Power for Ships Gets New Ideas
- Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida – Nuclear Energy Needed Now
- UK May Build Seven Nuclear Plants By 2050, Probably More
- UK in Talks With South Korea to Build Nuclear Power Plants
- DARPA Seeks Proposals for Nuclear Thermal Rockets
- Purdue and Duke Energy Plan Study for Campus Nuclear Reactor
California May Yet Save Diablo Canyon with Federal Credits
(NucNet contributed to this report) California Governor Gavin News, after several weeks of hemming and hawing over the Biden’s administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, said last week he would now apply for federal credits to help keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant open.
The Federal credits are part of a multi-billion dollar program to save the nation’s nuclear power plants from rapacious market forces. California governor Gavin Newsom said he is open to extending production of electricity and desalination at Pacific Gas & Electric’s two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear power station, the only nuclear station in the state, beyond its planned August 2025 retirement.
The plant, commissioned in the mid-1980s, is the largest source of electricity in California. The two 1100 MWe reactors produce about 8.6% of total California generation and 23% of carbon-free generation. The reactors supply the electrical needs of more than 3 million people.
The complex history behind PG&E’s decision in 2016 to close the plant in 2025 is based on the strident anti-nuclear politics of California’s environmental groups and as well as the influence of national groups like NRDC.
While the groups claim the power provided by the closed plant could be replaced by a combination of natural gas and renewables, experts in the public utilities field pointed out that the stability of the entire California grid would be at risk under such an arrangement. It would also lead to increased CO2 from new gas plants. Similar arguments were advanced to close the twin 100 MWe reactors at Indian Point in New York, but subsequent history has not borne them out.
Governor Newsom also expressed concern about the cost of new solar energy projects based on US tariffs imposed on Chinese components for the renewable power systems.
Until now efforts by a broad coalition of civic and pro-nuclear groups made little headway in their efforts to save the plant. However, once the Biden administration made dealing with climate change a priority and convinced Congress to put real money on the table to back his policy agenda, the possibility of saving the reactors took on new urgency.
MIT / Stanford Study
A MIT/Stanford University study released late last year made the case for keeping the plant open until 2035. A report from researchers at MIT and Stanford states that keeping Diablo Canyon running until 2035 would reduce the state’s carbon emissions from electricity generation by 11% every year, save the state a cumulative $2.6 billion, and improve the reliability of the grid.
The study said delaying the shutdown could provide multiple benefits by simultaneously helping to stabilize the state’s electric grid, provide desalinated water to supplement the area’s chronic water shortages, and provide carbon-free hydrogen fuel for transportation.
Steven Chu, energy secretary in the Obama administration, endorsed the study and said:
“We are not in a position in the near-term future to go to 100% renewable energy, and there will be times when the wind doesn’t blow, the sun doesn’t shine and we will need some power that we can turn on and dispatch at will, and that leaves two choices: fossil fuel or nuclear”
He noted that countries that have shut down their nuclear plants have ended up using more fossil fuels. He also called the decision to shutdown the plant “distressing” and said “Nuclear power is something we should reconsider, and we should ask PG&E to reconsider.”
Earlier this year nearly 80 scientists, academics and entrepreneurs from a range of disciplines, including former US energy secretary Steven Chu, sent a letter to Governor Newsom asking him to delay the closure of Diablo Canyon.
“The threat of climate change is too real and too pressing to leap before we look. Considering our climate crisis, closing the plant is not only irresponsible, the consequences could be catastrophic. We are in a rush to decarbonize and hopefully save our planet from the worsening effects of climate change. We categorically believe that shutting down Diablo Canyon in 2025 is at odds with this goal. It will increase greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and make reaching the goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 much harder and more expensive.”
DOE’s Plan to Save Nuclear Reactors at Risk of Shutting Down
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans last month to seek applications and sealed bid submissions under the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNC) to support the continued operation of U.S. nuclear reactors. The guidance directs owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down due to economic circumstances on how to apply for funding to avoid premature closure. This includes instructions on formulating and submitting sealed bids for allocation of credits.
This critical investment, made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help avoid premature retirements of reactors across the country due to financial hardship, preserve thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs to sustain local economies and protect our supply of carbon-free electricity generation.
“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.
It’s not clear if Governor Newsom gets the funds whether the anti-nuclear groups that are parties to the 2016 closure deal will file lawsuits to prevent the money from being spent to save the reactors. Also, assuming that the money does become available, PG&E will likely have to reopen its license renewal efforts with the NRC. In the past, the NRC has allowed nuclear utilities to continue to operate under their current license if deliberations for a 20-year extension are taking place.
Reuters reported that last November, a spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) said that renewal would require upgrades to help the plant withstand earthquakes and to make changes to its cooling systems. Those investments would likely cost more than $1 billion. It’s not clear whether these requirements are just political tactics to keep the plant on a trajectory to close or real issues.
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Nuclear Power for Ships Gets New Ideas
Core Power to Offer Nuclear Powered Floating Desalination Ship
(Ship & Bunker News) Nuclear reactor firm Core Power has proposed using a nuclear-powered ship as a mobile desalination plant. The firm said it is designing systems for deploying advanced reactors offshore to produce vast quantities of fresh clean water for communities in need, without polluting the environment.
The company has developed a ship design with an 80 MWe molten salt reactor to be installed in a ship in that could provide millions of gallons of drinking water a day.
“Floating desalination will allow these facilities to be flexible overcoming the low utilization rates of many existing facilities, as well as allow a decrease in build times due to a greater use of modularized construction techniques in shipyards,” the company said in the statement.
Norwegian Firm Sets Plans for Ship with Thorium Fueled MSR
Nuclear power is increasingly being considered as a means for parts of the shipping industry to eliminate their carbon emissions.
Norwegian maritime solutions company, Ulstein, has unveiled a new vessel concept that holds the potential to deliver zero-emission cruises and other ocean industry applications, the company said in a press release.
While MSRs have been proposed to be used to produce power on land, they haven’t been used at sea before, and Ulstein has designed a concept vessel, Thor, to serve as a blueprint for making future electric vessels self-sufficient.
The nuclear powered ship is being proposed for two missions – rescue at sea and oceanographic research. The company plans to build four ships with the design.
For its rescue missions, Thor will be equipped with helicopter pads, autonomous surface vehicles, airborne drones, cranes, workboats, rescue booms, and firefighting equipment. To serve its research functions, it will be equipped with laboratory spaces as well as a lecture lounge.
Ulstein claims that Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled up to meet the needs of up to four expedition cruises at once, while also being self-sufficient for its own power needs.
For demonstration purposes, Ulstein has also developed an Ice Class expedition vessel called SIF that will be powered by next-generation batteries. The 328 feet (100 m) long expedition vessel has a capacity of 160 members, with 80 members of the crew and 80 passengers and the capability to tread the Arctic and Antarctic waters.
The proposed MSR would use thorium dissolved in molten salt, and the chain reaction in the reactor would be used to produce steam, which is then used to drive turbines and produce electricity without any emissions.
“MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative,” noted Jan Emblemsvåg, an expert in the field of thorium and nuclear power generation and a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
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Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida – Nuclear Energy Needed Now
(Wire Services) Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the nation will use nuclear reactors to help reduce its own and other countries’ dependence on Russian energy especially for diesel fuel.
He said Japan would address the “vulnerability of our own energy self-sufficiency” by broadening where it buys energy from, promoting renewables and using nuclear power to diversify its sources of generation.
“We will utilize nuclear reactors with safety assurances to contribute to worldwide reduction of dependence on Russian energy,” Kishida told an investor audience in London.
“Restarting just one existing nuclear reactor would have the same effect as supplying 1 million tonnes of new LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) per year to the global market.”
Facing elections in July and rising energy price, Kishida said that nuclear energy would be part of the country’s future energy policy. While some communities which benefit from the payrolls of worker at operating plants support restarts, opposition is fierce to others, like at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant with a net capacity of 7,965MW.
The plant management has repeatedly run into trouble with its rebuilding efforts related to public confidence due to muffled reports about minor incidents involving fires and mishandling of low level waste. The public, more or less fixated on the Fukushima disaster, is unnerved by reports of even the slightest hiccup in operations. Local politicians in the Niigata Prefecture have made entire careers bashing TEPCO for its ham handed communications and less than stellar efforts to convince locals to support restart of the site’s seven BWRs.
But a majority of Japan’s public and businesses want the government to restart nuclear reactors to address energy security, with the Ukraine crisis and higher energy costs having added momentum to that shift in opinion. Several lawsuits to stop the restart of other nuclear plants have been dismissed by the courts. However, stringent government regulation of the plants that have not yet reopened, despite completing safety upgrades related to the Fukushima crisis, remain a challenge for Japan’s nuclear utilities.
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UK May Build Seven Nuclear Plants By 2050, Probably More
Echoing a boast by UK PM Boris Johnson that the nation would address its energy crisis by building one reactor a year, Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told The Sunday Telegraph, “If we fast forward to 2050, there is a world where we have six or seven (nuclear) sites in the UK. That isn’t going to happen in the next two years. But it’s definitely something that we can aspire to.”
The term “aspirational” is probably undershoots what could be possible. The UK is building twin 1700 MWe EPRs at the Hinkley Point C site and is moving along with plans to build two similar units at the Sizewell C site. All four reactors have the potential to be in revenue service by 2030.
Rolls-Royce is promoting its business case to build a fleet of 16 470 MWe PWRs over the next two decades. The firm recently submitted its PWR design to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation for the generic design review, which usually takes up to four years, but the firm says it thinks it can complete it faster, possibly in about two years. The company did not provide details. In any case, by 2026 at the latest the firm will be able to break ground for the first two units. Assuming its supply chain and production capabilities can keep up, the entire fleet could be in revenue service by 2040.
South Korea has recently expressed interest in entering the UK nuclear market related to other sites, which do not have current plans for new builds, such as Moorside, Wylfa, Oldbury, or Bradwell.
While the UK is less dependent on Russian energy than other European countries such as Germany, Kwarteng cited the need to avoid such imports.
“The idea is that, given what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is doing, we don’t want to live in a world where we’re dependent on Russian hydrocarbons,” he said.
Britain plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year. Why the nation is even importing Russian oil given its North Sea holdings is a mystery.
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UK in Talks With South Korea to Build Nuclear Power Plants
The U.K. reported to be in talks with South Korea about building nuclear power plants in Britain to help the government’s efforts to replace its aging fleet of first generation reactors. Ten of the U.K.’s existing 11 reactors are due to close by the end of the decade.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is reported to have met with state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. to discuss participation in future projects. No joint communique resulted from the ministerial meeting.
The discussions, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, are intended to revive efforts to build new full size nuclear power plants at Wylfa, Oldbury, Moorside, and Bradwell sites. All of them at one time had vendors lined up to build new reactors and all of them lack a vendor due to the absence of firm government support for financing and rate guarantee.
The Bradwell site, which was to be built by Chinese state-owned nuclear firms, is in play because UK Boris Johnson exited a deal with China to proceed in return for an equity stake in the Sizewell C project. Meanwhile, China’s 1000 MWe PWR, the Hulaong One, is nearing completion of the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation’s generic design assessment process.
The UK government is now scrambling to replace the Chinese commitment to Sizewell C and to Bradwell with western institutional and sovereign wealth fund investors. The UK government wants private capital for 60% of the costs of building Sizewell C, with the state and EDF both taking a 20% share. Funding for Bradwell might take place under the recently approved RAB financing method assuming a nuclear vendor can be found for it.
If South Korea is seek to enter the UK nuclear market, it might be able to shorten the licensing process by citing its work in the UAE building four 1400 MWe PWRs. The UAE managed to process the license applications in about half the time it takes the UK ONR to achieve the same result.
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DARPA Seeks Proposals for Nuclear Thermal Rockets
DARPA is seeking proposals for Phases 2 and 3 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program for the design, development, fabrication, and assembly of a nuclear thermal rocket engine. The goal is to execute an in-space flight demonstration of nuclear thermal propulsion in fiscal year 2026.
The overall objective of DRACO is to enable time-critical missions over vast distances in cislunar space, the area between Earth and the moon.
Nuclear thermal propulsion achieves high thrust-to-weight similar to chemical propulsion but with two to five times the efficiency using systems that are both faster and smaller than electric and chemical systems, respectively.
These propulsion capabilities will enable the United States to enhance its interests in space and to expand possibilities for NASA’s long-duration human spaceflight missions.
Phase 1 of the DRACO program involved two parallel risk reduction activities. Track A focused on developing a preliminary design for the rocket engine reactor. Track B concentrated on developing a conceptual design for the in-orbit demonstration system.
DRACO’s planned Phases 2 and 3 will focus on developing and demonstrating nuclear thermal rocket engine operation in orbit. The Broad Agency Announcement can be found at sam.gov The RFP was published on 05/04/2022 and responses are due 08/05/2022. See the RFP for scope and other contracting information. Direct Q&A to HR001122S0035@darpa.mil
DARPA awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations in April 2021. General Atomics received a $22 million order to develop a design for a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and subsystem, the centerpiece of the program.
Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin won contracts valued at $2.5 million and $2.9 million, respectively, to independently design a spacecraft using the propulsion system.
DARPA expects to choose one provider for the next two phases, which according to a May 4 solicitation are focused on finalizing the detailed nuclear thermal rocket design and building the spacecraft and its flight engine. Once completed, DARPA plans to conduct an on-orbit demonstration in fiscal 2026.
The agency’s fiscal 2023 budget request includes $57 million for DRACO, a $20 million increase from last year, which will support the transition to the next phase.
“The United States employs maneuver to maintain advantages in the land, sea, and air domains. However, maneuver is more challenging in space due to propulsion system limitations,” said Major Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.
“To maintain technological superiority in space, the United States requires leap-ahead propulsion technology that the DRACO program will provide.”
According to DARPA, DRACO’s nuclear thermal propulsion system could enable rapid maneuver in space, which is difficult to perform with spacecraft powered by electric or chemical propulsion. While chemical systems provide a high thrust-to-weight ratio and electric systems offer high efficiency, a nuclear thermal system combines both features, making it ideal for cislunar missions.
“This enables NTP systems to be both faster and smaller than electric and chemical systems, respectively,” the solicitation states.
“The propulsive capabilities afforded by NTP will enable the United States to maintain its interests in space and to expand the possibilities for NASA’s long-duration human spaceflight missions.”
DARPA notes that NASA has a particular interest in NTP technology because of its potential to reduce the travel time of its missions and return astronauts to Earth much faster in the event of an emergency. The two agencies are cooperating on DRACO, and NASA has offered to partner with companies bidding on the later phases of the program, offering its subject matter expertise as well as testing facilities.
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Purdue and Duke Energy Plan Study for Campus Nuclear Reactor
Purdue University and Duke Energy announced April 27 that they plan to jointly explore the feasibility of using advanced nuclear energy to meet the campus community’s long-term energy needs.
Purdue and Duke Energy intend to study power produced through small modular reactors (SMRs). The joint press statement did not state a preference for a reactor type, e.g., LWR or one of the advanced designs, or a vendor.
It is likely that such a reactor would have dual missions of providing power for the university campus and as a research platform. A timeframe for completing the study wasn’t specified in the press statement. If this exploration leads to development of an SMR, it will be a first for the giant utility.
Only one SMR design is licensed in the US so far which is NuScale’s 50 MWe SMR. However, others are coming in the next few years including the GE Hitachi BWRX-300, which is also a LWR type design. Advanced designs involving high temperature gas configurations and molten salt reactors will likely be available before the end of the decade.
Assuming Purdue did decide to build an SMR on campus, applying for and getting a construction license could take up to four years and construction another two-to-three years. Funding for the project would have to be secured along with hiring of an EPC to build it. At current global pricing, a 300 MWe SMR would cost ($4500/Kw) about $1.35 billion. On the other hand, a 50 MWe SMR at the same cost, would come in at $225 million which is probably more in line with Purdue’s checkbook.
These timelines and costs didn’t phase the key leaders of the joint effort who expressed their enthusiasm for it.
“No other option holds as much potential to provide reliable, adequate electric power with zero carbon emissions,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.
“Innovation and new ideas are at the core of what we do at Purdue, and that includes searching for ways to minimize the use of fossil fuels while still providing carbon-free, reliable, and affordable energy. We see enough promise in these new technologies to undertake an exploration of their practicality, and few places are better positioned to do it.”
Duke Energy Indiana President Stan Pinegar said, “We can share our experience with one of America’s premiere engineering schools to see what this technology could do for its campus as well as the state.”
Purdue is currently powered through the Wade Utility Plant, which is a 31 MWe gas fired combined heat and power system that uses steam to provide heat, electricity and chilled water that is used to cool facilities.
The Duke Energy Combined Heat and Power Plant at Purdue University, which began operations last month, is a 16 MWe gas-powered plant on the southern edge of the university’s West Lafayette campus. Built, owned and operated by Duke Energy, the plant produces electricity for the company’s customers and is a new source of thermal energy in the form of steam for Purdue’s heating and hot water needs. Approximately 50% of campus electricity is purchased from Duke Energy.
SMRs are revolutionary in part because of their modular nature. They can be prefabricated off site, thereby saving money and time in construction. And Purdue is at the forefront of this technology by pioneering, developing and verifying the steel-plate composite construction used in SMRs at the on-campus Bowen Laboratory through the Center for Structural Engineering and Nuclear Power Plants, which is led by Amit Varma, Purdue’s Karl H. Kettelhut professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Bowen Laboratory of Large-Scale CE Research.
“Steel-plate composite technology is fundamental to successfully deploying SMRs within budget and on schedule,” Varma said.
“We have the world’s pre-eminent team and facilities to conduct the testing, analysis, design, and construction demonstration to actualize the potential of this technology.
Purdue engineering leaders and experts involved will include Mung Chiang, Seungjin Kim, Amit Varma and Arden Bement.
- Chiang is the executive vice president of Purdue University for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson Dean of Purdue’s College of Engineering.
- Kim is the Capt. James McCarthy, Jr. and Cheryl E. McCarthy Head of the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University.
Bement achieved international recognition as director of the National Science Foundation and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He has a long and distinguished career with Purdue, having served as the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Electroceramics, the David A. Ross Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering, the chief global affairs officer, and the inaugural director of the Global Policy Research Institute.
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