- South Korea and US Sign Nuclear Energy Pact – Updated 05/21/22
- Turkish Nuclear Plant Threatened By Russian Sanctions
- Ukraine Planning For Post-War Nuclear Power Plants
- Ukraine Rejects Use of Zaporizhzhia NPP Exporting Electricity To Russia
- DOD Selects Selects Nuclear-Powered Spacecraft Designs
- Artificial Intelligence Used to Assess Metallic Nuclear Fuel
South Korea and US Sign Nuclear Energy Pact – updated 05/21/22
(NucNet contributed to this report) US President Joseph Biden traveled to South Korea as part of a tour of Asian nations. The two nations signed a nuclear cooperation agreement including plans to continue cooperation in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).
In a May 20th weekly newsletter, Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security, a DC think tank, wrote there are serious issues that need attention if the two nations are to reap real benefits from collaboration in nuclear energy projects.
“If the U.S. and Korea are going to reboot their nuclear energy relationship, they will need to move beyond the summit rhetoric and take specific and difficult actions,” he said.
“In the area of civil nuclear cooperation, the essential objective is to resolve the Westinghouse-KEPCO dispute. Numerous discussions have occurred at working levels without result. . . . Without resolution of this issue, U.S.-Korea collaboration on large reactor projects won’t happen and suspended technical-level engagement won’t resume.”
Luongo also wrote, “The U.S. and Korea should have two overriding goals in this new environment – position themselves as reliable nuclear exporters that support the highest levels of nuclear governance and prevent China from filling the gap left by Russia’s nuclear export implosion.”
“This discussion should target opportunities, assess supply chain issues, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each country in nuclear export. Second, identify how to create collaborative financing for third country reactor exports and equitable mechanisms for profit sharing. Third, identify the research and test capabilities required to support next-generation advanced nuclear power technologies that can replace facilities in Russia or China.”
South Korea’s 180 on Nuclear Energy
Unlike its predecessor, which wanted to shut down all of the nation’s reactors, the new Yoon government is bullish on nuclear and recently said construction of two plants at the Shin-Hanul nuclear power station will resume in 2025 and an application will be made next year so that Kori-2 can be operated beyond its service life.
Work on the Shin-Hanul-3 and Shin-Hanul-4, 330 km from Seoul in the southeast of the country, was halted in 2017 under the nuclear phaseout policy of the previous administration.
U.S. Firms Firmly in the Mix
Considerable collaboration is already underway between South Korean heavy industry firms and two US firms – NuScale and TerraPower. Both firms are developing smaller scale nuclear reactors than the 1000 MWe or larger plants that have been built in past decades.
NuScale – Samsung and two other Korean conglomerates have signed equity agreements with U.S.-based NuScale to build small-scale modular nuclear reactors in Asia as demand for clean energy grows globally.
NuScale and Samsung C&T and business units of Korean conglomerates Doosan Group and GS Group, will pursue the deployment of NuScale’s SMR power plants. Samsung, Doosan and GS Energy will advise NuScale in component manufacturing, plant construction and plant operation.
The deal was announced after Yoon Suk-yeol was elected South Korea’s president in March. Yoon, who took office on May 10, has pledged to embrace nuclear energy to accelerate South Korea’s goal to zero out emissions.
In April 2022 NuScale Power LLC and Doosan Enerbility Co., Ltd. announced through a signed agreement that Doosan will begin production of forging materials for NuScale’s Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) with expectations for full-scale equipment manufacturing by the latter half of 2023. Specifically, Doosan, a Korean industrials and energy company, will begin production of forging dies for NuScale’s Upper Reactor Pressure Vessel, marking the start of NuScale Power Module (NPM) production.
This milestone builds upon NuScale and Doosan’s existing relationship, which began in 2019 when Doosan made its initial equity investment in NuScale. Since then, Doosan has conducted an extensive multi-year effort, completing the design for manufacture of the NPM and performing manufacturing trials to reduce schedule risk and increase cost certainty.
TerraPower – TerraPower entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SK Inc. and SK Innovation on May 17, 2022. This MOU is in support of commercializing advanced reactor technologies and will allow the organizations to jointly explore potential synergies between TerraPower’s technology and SK Group’s energy portfolio.
A spokesman for TerraPower said the groups will also explore opportunities between TerraPower’s medical isotopes production capabilities and SK Group’s biopharmaceutical investment portfolio. TeraPower has the technology to produce actinium-225 (Ac-225), a radioactive isotope fortargeted alpha radiation therapy that destroys cancer cells without damaging nearby normal cells.
SK Group will also cooperate with TerraPower for development and commercialization of SMR technology and joint advancement into domestic and foreign nuclear power plant markets. The cooperation between the two sides are expected to help Korean nuclear-related companies secure SMR core technology and foster related industries.
Update: 05/21/22 US & ROK Joint Statement on Nuclear Energy
The two leaders recognize the importance of nuclear energy as a critical and reliable source of carbon-free electricity, an important element to grow our clean energy economy, and an integral part of enhancing global energy security.
The two leaders commit to greater nuclear energy collaboration and accelerating the development and global deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors by jointly using export promotion and capacity building tools, and building a more resilient nuclear supply chain.
The two Presidents reaffirm that both countries will engage in global civil-nuclear cooperation in accordance with the highest standards of nuclear nonproliferation, including the IAEA Additional Protocol as the standard for both international safeguards and for nuclear supply arrangements.
Acknowledging the shared goals of deepening strategic ties, while respecting each country’s intellectual investments, both leaders commit to using tools such as the ROK-U.S. Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Technology Transfer and Export Cooperation to provide a solid foundation for strengthened cooperation in the U.S., ROK and overseas nuclear markets and the High-Level Bilateral Commission, to further cooperation for spent fuel management, nuclear export promotion, assured fuel supply and nuclear security.
The U.S. welcomes the ROK’s decision to join the U.S.-led Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program. (link to full text at White House press room)
& & &
Turkish Nuclear Plant Threatened By Russian Sanctions
(Aljazeera)(AFP) Unprecedented sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine have led to fresh concerns about Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is being built by Rosatom, Moscow’s state-owned nuclear company.
The first reactor of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, located on the Mediterranean coast near Mersin, is due to start production next year, but potential problems may arise from western sanctions on Russia that will affect financing and equipment from third countries have threatened to delay the $20 billion project. The sanctions are a response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Rosatom, the Russian firm behind Akkuyu, has so far escaped sanctions but the option has reportedly been discussed by the United States. Banks such as Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution and a major backer of the nuclear plant, have been hit by these measures.
The Akkuyu plant, to be composed of four 1200 MWe VVER nuclear reactors, is expected when complete to provide Turkey with 10% of its electricity needs when all of its reactors come on line. According to Turkey’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the project is 100% financed by Russian capital. Efforts by Rosatom to attract investors from Turkey and other countries has not proved to be successful.
Russia’s Sberbank has provided Akkuyu NPP, which is mostly owned by Rosatom, with loans worth $1.2 billion since 2019. Sovcombank, another Akkuyu creditor subject to sanctions, gave loans valued at $300 million in March last year.
Possible sanctions against Rosatom could also affect the flow of equipment to Akkuyu, barring suppliers from providing energy industry equipment, technology and services.
In an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, aired on February 23, Akkuyu CEO Anastasia Zoteeva highlighted the “large amount of equipment” produced for the plant in countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and South Korea. A key component was manufactured by General Electric Steam Power. French company Assystem is also involved in construction supervision.
Other components that could be affected include turbines, reactor pumps, transformers and other electrical equipment to put power from the reactor on the grid, and, significantly, computer chips for sensors and gauges that are essential to build the four control rooms.
American Nuclear Society CEO Says Russian Exports Will Be Hurt By Sanctions
In a May 11th post at the ANS Nuclear News Wire, Craig Piercy, CEO of the American Nuclear Society, wrote, “Russia’s actions in Ukraine have also done material damage to the reputation of its own commercial nuclear enterprise. Putin has made clear his intentions to use energy as a political weapon, if there was any question before. Multilateral economic sanctions will significantly degrade Russia’s ability to provide state-sponsored financing for new nuclear builds, a key competitive advantage it enjoyed before the war in Ukraine began. You have to ask: How can any unaligned nation look upon Russia as a trustworthy partner?”
He added that China may be the main beneficiary of Russia’s loss of traction in the global nuclear market due to sanctions from NATO nations.
“Has this affected China’s ability to fulfill its nuclear ambitions? Perhaps. Siding with Russia at the beginning of the war must have resulted in some degree of reputational damage. But with a big checkbook, a comprehensive technology development program, and a clear commitment to use commercial nuclear exports as a tool of diplomacy, China’s nuclear sector could just as easily end up being the beneficiary of the vacuum left by a sidelined Russia.”
& & &
Ukraine Planning For Post-War Nuclear Power Plants
(WNN contributed to this report) Energoatom’s CEO Petro Kotin says that construction work on two new Westinghouse AP1000 units at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant “will begin as soon as the war is over.” He did not indicate where the financing would come from to pay for the project. EnergoAtom has said that the US Export/Import Bank would be a source of financing, but that agency did not respond to a media inquiry to confirm this claim. The US Department of Energy also declined to comment.
In an interview with news media in Ukraine, he said that the agreement signed last November with Westinghouse covered the construction of five AP1000 units in total, with the other three units to be distributed at the country’s other existing nuclear power plants.
Kotin said that in addition to those five units “we are looking at new sites. The most promising thing we are working on now is the Chyhyryn site in the Cherkasy region, where a power unit was planned to be built in Soviet times. There was a site allocated for this and there are good conditions, the population is positive about the construction of such a facility. It is the center of Ukraine, there is a high-power transmission line nearby, and a lot of water, which is important for a high-capacity nuclear power unit.”
Kotin added that before the war with Russia began the administration of the Odessa region had been keen to build a nuclear power unit. There had been plans, he said, during Soviet times for such a plant but it was cancelled after the Chernobyl accident.
Electricity Exports Planned
Another issued raised in the media call was that Ukraine currently has “a lot of capacity that is in reserve due to the reduction of electricity consumption in Ukraine,” which,could be exported. Interfax Ukraine reported that Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a government meeting Ukraine planned to resume addiingl power lines with Poland “to export electricity from Ukrainian nuclear power plants. It will help Europe stop importing Russian gas sooner.”
Ukraine Rejects Use of Zaporizhzhia NPP Exporting Electricity To Russia
(BBC) As a consequence of Russian troops having seized the Zaporizhzhia plant, the biggest in Europe, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has falsely claimed the facility would export electricity to Russia.
Ukrenergo, the Ukraine grid operation said not so fast. It said the plant was in the Ukrainian grid and the grid remains under the control of Ukrainian specialists.
“Ukraine’s power system currently has no physical connections with Russia’s power system. Therefore, the supply of electricity from Ukrainian power plants to Russia is currently physically impossible,” the grid operator said in a statement to wire services.
The facility is one of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe composed of six 1000 MWe VVER reactors five of which were built between 1984 and 1989. The sixth unit was completed in 1995.
“The plant only works in Ukraine’s energy grid,” Leonid Oliynyk told the BBC.
“Now the power station is working at a minimum level, but Kyiv remains in charge, all the power lines are controlled by Ukraine. The Russian statement is wishful thinking,” Mr Oliynyk added.
Ukrenergo said Moscow is trying to destabilize talks with the European Union about the possibility of boosting electricity exports.
The EU and Ukraine linked Europe’s electricity system to the Ukrainian grid on March 16 in response to Russia’s invasion. The move means Ukraine can receive emergency power from Europe if military attacks caused power outages. Last month Ukraine said it could export more power to Europe without requiring grid upgrades.
& & &
DOD Selects Selects Nuclear-Powered Spacecraft Designs
(Space News) The DOD Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) announced May 17th it selected Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. and Avalanche to develop small nuclear-powered spacecraft for in-space demonstrations planned for 2027.
DIU, a Silicon Valley-based Pentagon organization that works with commercial industries and startups, awarded both companies contracts to demonstrate nuclear propulsion and power technology for future DoD space missions.
The selection of Ultra Safe Nuclear and Avalanche comes just seven months after DIU issued a solicitation for small nuclear-powered engines for space missions beyond Earth orbit. The deliverables are due from both firms in 2027.
“Advanced nuclear technologies will provide the speed, power, and responsiveness to maintain an operational advantage in space,” said U.S. Air Force Maj Ryan Weed, Program Manager for the Nuclear Advanced Propulsion and Power (NAPP) program at DIU.
“Nuclear tech has traditionally been government-developed and operated, but we have discovered a thriving ecosystem of commercial companies, including start-ups, innovating in space nuclear.”
Conceptual image of a nuclear propulsion system. Image: NASA file
Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear will demonstrate a chargeable, encapsulated nuclear radioisotope battery called EmberCore.
Avalanche, a venture-backed fusion energy startup also based in Seattle, developed a handheld micro-fusion reactor called Orbitron.
“Compared to other fusion concepts, Orbitron devices are promising for space applications as they may be scaled down in size and enable their use as both a propulsion and power source,” said DIU.
Future missions will demand more maneuverability and electrical power to expand the capabilities of spacecraft, allowing for orbital changes, methods to control or facilitate de-orbiting, the transfer of materials between orbits and solar shadow operations to name a few, etc.
DIU expects that its NAPP program will have a direct impact on how the U.S. employs space power, ushering in an era where spacecraft can maneuver tactically in cislunar space.
Ultra Safe Nuclear last year won a contract from the Idaho National Laboratory to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor concept for a NASA space exploration mission. The company also is a subcontractor to General Atomics and Blue Origin in the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA plans to launch the DRACO nuclear thermal propulsion demonstration in 2025.
Air Force Maj. Ryan Weed, DIU’s program manager for nuclear advanced propulsion and power, said the two small spacecraft prototypes funded by DIU complement the work being done by DARPA and NASA on nuclear propulsion for larger spacecraft.
& & &
Artificial Intelligence Used to Assess Metallic Nuclear Fuel
A team of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and University of Idaho researchers has successfully applied machine learning to characterizing the microstructure of metallic nuclear fuel. The data collected through this technique will be used by engineers to predict fuel performance more accurately as they develop fuel for the next generation of nuclear power reactors.
The research team at INL’s Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory developed machine learning approaches to extract and analyze the size and connectivity of fission gas bubbles from irradiated uranium-zirconium fuel.
Gas bubbles are a natural byproduct of nuclear fission. As uranium atoms split apart, they produce heat along with smaller atoms including xenon and krypton. These and other byproducts are stored as bubbles within the fuel elements, resulting in microstructural changes that can limit the fuel’s ability to transfer heat to the reactor coolant, reducing efficiency.
The uranium-zirconium fuel under study by the INL team is being considered as an option for several next-generation reactor designs and has advantages such as a simplified manufacturing process and increased fuel burnup.
“The new approaches we developed will help us uncover the dynamic environment inside irradiated fuel in a nondestructive manner,” said Tiankai Yao, a post-irradiation examination specialist at INL.
“It also allows us to significantly accelerate our post-irradiation examination work via an automated process and provides us with accurate information including fuel morphology, fission gas bubble density and lanthanide distribution.” Lanthanides are elements that form during reactor operations and inhibit fuel efficiency.
“We are building reliable and efficient machine learning approaches to help reveal and interpret valuable insights from high-quality nuclear fuel data,” said professor Min Xian, director of the University of Idaho’s Machine Intelligence and Data Analytics Lab.
The data generated will enable a better understanding of fuel performance dynamics, such as how the distribution of microstructures evolve as thermal conductivity decreases over time.
“We look forward to further refining this capability and potentially applying our algorithms to other areas of post-irradiation examination work,” said Luca Capriotti, an INL post-irradiation examination specialist.
The project has produced several notable insights into uranium-zirconium fuel performance, including identifying fuel thermal conductivity degradation due to extensive pore structure and an increase of connected pores in hotter regions of the fuel.
The findings have been published in the scientific journal “Materials Characterization,” available by subscription. Abstract
The work was funded through the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and supported by the DOE Advanced Fuel Campaign.
# # #