INL to Test Thorium Fuels in ATR

  • Clean Core Thorium Energy Partners with DOE for Thorium Fuel Testing
  • Senator Tuberville (R-Ala) Introduces the Thorium Energy Security Act
  • Denmark’s Seaborg Wins EU Grant for Floating Nuclear Plants
  • Seaborg and South Korea’s BEES Sign MOU for a Floating Molten Salt Reactor
  • Keeping Diablo Canyon Power Plant Online Would Help California Decarbonize
  • DOE Proposes Changes to Help Rescue California’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant
  • UAE Regulator Issues Operating License For Barakah  3
  • Sizewell C Twin EPRs Eligible for RAB Method Funding

Clean Core Thorium Energy Partners with DOE for Thorium Fuel Testing

A schedule is set for qualification tests for advanced thorium fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory

11-INL_Logo-2Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) (Clean Core), based in Chicago, announced a new strategic partnership agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for the testing of Clean Core’s innovative thorium fuel for nuclear power plants. The agreement is the next step for irradiation testing and qualification in Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor of Clean Core’s advanced nuclear fuel. The firm said the agreement is a “major milestone in the commercialization of thorium-based energy.”

Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life (ANEEL) is a proprietary fuel technology using a combination of thorium and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) to enhance the performance of CANDU reactors and other pressurized heavy-water reactor designs. Proliferation-resistant ANEEL fuel will decrease the operating costs of CANDU and pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs) while significantly reducing the volume of high-level waste generated.  (large image: comparison of uranium v. thorium fuel cycles)

INL expects to begin testing of the ANEEL fuel in their Advanced Test Reactor by the end of 2022 or early 2023. Clean Core, in partnership with Texas A&M University and INL, completed the fabrication of the ANEEL fuel pellets under INL’s quality assurance requirements. The pellets are ready to be inserted into a testing assembly.

The ATR recently successfully completed a once a decade core internal changeout to upgrade its functions. The reactor is used to perform irradiation testing of many nuclear materials and fuels that support a wide range of goals, including the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet, the development of accident tolerant fuels, advanced fuels for small modular reactors and microreactors, and production of Plutonium-238 for future NASA deep-space missions.

Concurrently with fuel testing at INL, Clean Core will complete performance and safety assessments and a demonstration irradiation of full-size fuel assemblies in a CANDU reactor with partners in Canada. Clean Core expects to have ANEEL fuel assemblies producing carbon-free power in commercial CANDU reactors by the end of 2025.

  • Background on the Development of the ANEEL Fuel

In October 2020 Researchers in the Nuclear Engineering and Science Center (NESC) at Texas A&M and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) partnered with Clean Core Thorium Energy (CCTE) to fabricate a proprietary thorium-based nuclear fuel called Advanced Nuclear Energy for Enriched Life (ANEEL). This fuel is a combination of thorium and high-assay low-enriched uranium and addresses issues including cost, safety, proliferation and waste management.

Use of ANEEL Fuel in PHWRs

When used in small heavy water reactors, ANEEL fuel is ideal for deployment to emerging countries where the need for additional clean energy is most urgent in developing nations and for prevention of proliferation of weapons grade nuclear materials.

Two such existing heavy water reactors designs are the Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) and the Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR). These reactors are heavy water-cooled and moderated pressurized water reactors where the nuclear core is contained in hundreds of pressurized tubes.

candu reactor

Conceptual drawing of a CANDU type nuclear reactor

They usually employ natural uranium oxide as fuel, with heavy water as the moderator (a material used in a nuclear reactor to slow down the neutrons produced from fission).

There are currently 49 operating PHWR/CANDU reactors in seven countries including Canada, Argentina, India, Romania, and China. Because of the global nuclear industry’s experience with this  fleet of reactors, the Clean Core team feels it can benefit by use existing reactor technology to minimize the cost and avoid decades-long regulatory hurdles for deployment. In 2018 India committed to building a fleet of ten 700 MWe PHWRs using a completely domestic supply chain.

  • MOU with Centrus for Commercial Scale Production

In a separate MOU with Centrus, Clean Core is collaborating to promote the use of ANEEL advanced nuclear fuel in CANDU reactors around the world, together with other PHWRs. While the initial test pellets being fabricated by Texas A&M are using a small quantity of HALEU supplied by INL, Clean Core Thorium Energy plans to use HALEU from Centrus for commercial-scale production of ANEEL fuel.

Centrus CCTE grabUnder a three-year contract signed with the U.S. Department of Energy in 2019, Centrus is constructing the first NRC-licensed HALEU production line in Piketon, Ohio.

Using thorium as the main ingredient also has many advantages in CANDU/PHWR existing reactors. With its higher melting point, and lower internal operating temperature, thorium is inherently safer than uranium, making a core meltdown less likely.

Due to the higher fuel burn-up possible with ANEEL fuel, radioactive waste is decreased substantially. Higher fuel burn-up also means more uranium and plutonium are burned to make energy while the end product is significantly denatured, reducing the possible proliferation risk of the used fuel. Thorium is also found more abundantly than uranium on Earth.

According to the US Geological Survey, Thorium resources are found throughout the world, most notably in Australia, Brazil, India, and the United States. India has the largest resources (850,000 tons), followed by Brazil (630,000 tons) and Australia and the United States (600,000 tons each).

“With this collaboration, ANEEL-fueled PHWRs/CANDUs could provide abundant, safe and clean energy in order to build a path to development and dignity for emerging nations,” said Mehul Shah, founder and CEO of CCTE.

& & &

Senator Tuberville (R-Ala) Introduces the Thorium Energy Security Act

The Department of Energy has so far spent $657 millions to destroy the supply of U-233 under the Defense Environmental Cleanup Program. Senator  Tommy Tuberville is convinced this a waste of a key nuclear fuel. (press release)

He introduced legislation – S.4242. Under his new bill, known as the Thorium Energy Security Act, Tuberville hopes to see the U.S. save its U-233 and put it toward the development of new nuclear reactors. The bill would preserve the remaining inventory of U-233 for use in making medical isotopes and for development of fuels for thorium-powered nuclear reactors.

Tuberville notes that China has been hard at work refining its thorium technology. Beijing has produced its first reactor powered by U-233, and began testing it last September.

“Uranium-233 is too valuable and too useful to just be thrown in the trash, a fact that China understands but our Department of Energy clearly does not. While we are spending millions of dollars to destroy U-233, China is investing in it by preparing to build a new generation nuclear reactors powered by U-233.The United States needs to lead on advanced nuclear reactors and not leave the future of innovative clean energy technologies in the hands of China. Preserving this valuable national resource is the first step on that path.”

He claims that the country could soon introduce additional U-233-powered reactors as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative. So far, China has promoted for export its light water design, an 1100 MWe PWR called the Hualong One that burns conventional uranium fuel, building one in Pakistan. China is in talks with Argentina to build another one there. So far there have not been any reports of China having a thorium-fueled nuclear reactor available for export nor is one under development other than at the R&D stage.   (Neutron Bytes report on China’s thorium reactor R&D program)

Tuberville said he is worried that China will be able to gain a significant advantage in its development of U-233 technology based on a program, long since canceled, in which the U.S. shared technical data about thorium reactors designs with Beijing.

Initiated in 2011 under the Obama administration, DOE entered a cooperative agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The program, which took place over several years, shared information on U-233 processing in an effort to promote China’s movement away from coal and toward clean energy solutions.

“China’s ahead of us because they got the technology, and they’re running with it, and we’re not running with it,” Tuberville told Newsweek. “There’s a will and a way here for us to make progress with energy.”

  • Why U-233 is Important to Thorium Reactors

Thorium cannot in itself power a reactor, Unlike natural uranium, it does not contain enough fissile material to initiate a nuclear chain reaction. As a result it must first be bombarded with neutrons to produce the highly radioactive isotope U-233 which makes thorium reactors very dependent on U-233 to operate.

Critics of the fuel have raised questions about nonproliferation risks in the thorium fuel cycle and overall whether it is safer than uranium fueled reactors in terms of the inputs needed to fabricate U-233, which is a man-made metal.

Also they note there are issues with the use of plutonium to make the fuel and the resulting waste form that contains PU-239, which can be used to make bombs. Various approaches to making U-233 have involved reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from light water reactors to harvest the plutonium needed to make U-233.

Jim Conca, a Ph.D., nuclear scientist, addressed these concerns in comments to Popular Mechanics Magazine in September 2020.

“The ANEEL fuel has a very high fuel burn-up rate[, which] means the fuel stays in the reactor longer and gets more energy out of the same amount of fuel. [It’s] prohibitively difficult to make into a weapon. [And] ANEEL fuel will reduce the waste by over 80% and end up with much less plutonium. Less spent fuel means less refueling, less cost, less fuel handling and less volume to dispose.”

A 2005 IAEA report “Thorium fuel cycle — Potential benefits and challenges” explains the thorium fuel cycle in great detail.   See Table 1 in this report for a list of thorium fueled reactors by nation.

India, China, and other countries have been experimenting with thorium reactors and fuels for decades, but without translating the R&D efforts into successful commercial designs. India’s interest in a thorium-fueled reactor was based on the fact that for decades it was locked out of accessing global uranium markets to get fuel for its civilian and military reactors due to its refusal to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

& & &

Denmark’s Seaborg Wins EU Grant for Floating Nuclear Plants

(NucNet) Danish nuclear technology company Seaborg Technologies has won a European Innovation Council grant for the continued development of floating nuclear power plants based on its compact molten salt reactor (CMSR).

seaborg logoThe company said it is one of only 74 European companies selected from over 1,000 proposals to be awarded an EIC Accelerator Grant so far in 2022.

The EIC is Europe’s flagship innovation program, with a budget of €10 billion, to identify, develop and scale up breakthrough technologies and innovations across all EU member states.

The EIC Accelerator provides financial support and business acceleration services to companies, which will each receive grants and/or equity investments, depending on their needs, of up to €17.5 million.

Mastering molten salt technology is a key element of Seaborg’s Generation IV CMSR strategy in which the company aims to deploy on “power barges.” providing clean and affordable electricity worldwide.

The first power barges will have two reactors installed delivering 200 MWe. The modular design allows for up to 800 MWe over a 24-year lifetime. Seaborg is aiming to produce commercial prototypes of its reactor by 2024 with serial production in 2026.

In a CMSR reactor, the fuel is mixed with molten fluoride salt, which also acts as a coolant. According to Seaborg, this provides significant safety benefits. At the end of the 12-year fuel cycle, the fuel is returned to the supplier, where the short-lived fission products are separated and transferred to secure storage.

& & &

Seaborg and South Korea’s BEES Sign MOU for a Floating  Molten Salt Reactor

South Korean firm Best Engineering in Energy Solutions (BEES) and Seaborg have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with South Korean regulators to identify and meet requirements for the construction and export of the Danish company’s floating nuclear power plants.

seaborg floating

Seaborg’s Compact Molten Salt Reactor (CMSR) power barge is designed to be a turn-key product which can be moored in a harbor, and be of a modular design and able to deliver between 200 MWe and 800 MWe for its 24-year lifetime.

In April 2022, Seaborg and South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries signed a partnership agreement to develop floating nuclear power plants based on Seaborg’s CMSR.

The floating nuclear power plant comes as a turn-key product, ready to be moored at an industrial harbor. In the harbor, a transmission cable will be connected from the barge to the electric grid on shore. An optional solution is to place a hydrogen or ammonia production plant next to the nuclear power barge utilizing the CO2-free fission energy from the barge to produce hydrogen and ammonia.

& & &

Keeping Diablo Canyon Power Plant Online Would Help California Decarbonize

Extending operations at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, California’s largest single source of carbon-free electricity production, would significantly reduce emissions and natural gas use, and accelerate progress toward the state’s ambitious clean energy goals, according to a new study released by Carbon Free California.  The Brattle Group’s full analysis is available here.

diablo canyonRetaining Diablo Canyon could help avoid blackouts, significantly reduce electric power costs and provide the best opportunity for California to meet its climate goals, even with the widespread deployment of renewables and energy storage.

The analysis, conducted by the Brattle Group, found that keeping Diablo Canyon online could also help enable California to achieve a carbon-free grid by 2035, a decade earlier than the state’s current goal, at a cost $5 billion lower than if the plant were retired. These early reductions could help jumpstart economy-wide decarbonization and reduce California’s dependence on gas-fired power generation, lowering cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 40 million metric tons of CO2.

“Diablo Canyon is already the largest clean energy resource in California, a state that has set the ambitious goal of a carbon-free electric grid,” said Brattle Group Principal Sam Newell.

“In combination with a dramatic expansion of solar, wind, storage and dispatchable clean technologies, the study shows that keeping Diablo Canyon online will help California achieve its goals faster, at less cost and with greater grid reliability.”

The study found that keeping Diablo Canyon in California’s energy portfolio could reduce costs for ratepayers by a net present value (NPV) of approximately $4 billion, even with an assumed capital investment of $2 billion to meet the state’s ocean water intake standards. These system-wide savings result from displacing gas-fired generation and fossil fuel imports and reducing other costs for resources needed to meet clean energy and reliability goals.

This report comes at a time when the Newsom Administration has indicated its interest in exploring the option of retaining Diablo Canyon and the state faces significant electricity reliability challenges. Recently released polling found that 58% of state residents believe Diablo Canyon should continue to operate, with even greater support in the local community surrounding the plant. Power industry analysts are predicting that the current record high temperatures in the state this summer, due to climate change, could lead to brown outs if Diablo Canyon is shut down.

& & &

DOE Proposes Changes to Help Rescue California’s Diablo Canyon Plant

The Bloomberg wire service reports that the US Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing changes requested by California Governor Gavin Newsom that will allow the state’s only remaining nuclear power plant to qualify for federal financial assistance.

The Energy Department has proposed removing a requirement, related to financial losses, that would have prevented PG&E Corp.’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant from getting a portion of $6 billion in funds the Biden Administration is making available to rescue reactors at risk of closing early because they are losing money.

Newsom is reconsidering a state plan, approved in 2016 with support of NRDC and other anti-nuclear groups, to retire Diablo Canyon in 2025 because of projected electricity shortages that could lead to brownouts and  blackouts in the state.

The effort to keep Diablo Canyon open would gain momentum if the plant can qualify for federal financial aid. California’s potential reversal of its anti-nuclear power stance underscores the crisis the state is facing as it seeks to decarbonize its grid.

  • California Senator Feinstein Does a 180 on Diablo Canyon

Back in 2012 California Senator Diane Feinstein was a critic of the SONGS nuclear energy plant in her state and nuclear energy in general. A decade later she has become a supporter of keeping the twin reactors at Diablo Canyon open past their planned shutdown date of 2025 .Relicensing the plant would add 20 years to its operational life to the mid-2040s

In an OP ED in the Sacramento Bee she referenced projected electricity shortfalls in California due to the effects of climate change, Feinstein writes that “Pacific Gas and Electric Company should reconsider its decision to close Diablo Canyon by 2025. The utility should get the plant relicensed instead, retiring it once the state can replace its production with clean sources.”

She also references a joint Stanford University–Massachusetts Institute of Technology study which found that delaying Diablo Canyon’s retirement to 2035 would lower California power sector carbon emissions by more than 10% from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on gas, save $2.6 billion in power system costs, and bolster system reliability to mitigate brownouts.

& & &

UAE Regulator Issues Operating License For Barakah  3

(NucNet) The United Arab Emirates’ nuclear regulator has issued the operating license for the third unit of the four-unit Barakah nuclear power station.

The Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) said that under the license, Nawah Energy Company, the subsidiary of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) responsible for operating the plant, is authorized to operate it for 60 years

The assessment process included reviewing the plant’s layout design and analysis of the site’s location in terms of geography and demography. The assessment also included the reactor design, cooling systems, security arrangements, emergency preparedness, radioactive waste management and other technical aspects. FANR assessed Nawah’s organizational and manpower readiness.

The Barakah power station is located on UAE’s coast of the Persian Gulf about 280 km (155 miles) northwest of Abu Dhabi. It is one of the largest nuclear energy new-build projects in the world, with four APR-1400 units supplied by South Korea. Construction began in 2012 and the project as a whole is now more than 96% complete.

& & &

Sizewell C Twin EPRs Eligible for RAB Method Funding

(WNN) The British government has published documents which show “significant progress” towards implementing a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model for new nuclear power projects. It has set out its case for the Sizewell C project to receive funding under the model and launched a consultation on how projects would receive RAB financing.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced in June 2018 that the government would review the viability of a RAB model for new nuclear projects and committed in January 2019 to publishing an assessment of this model.

BEIS has now published draft policy for designating the company operating Sizewell C, NNB Generation Company (SZC) Limited, to receive money through the RAB model. It said the reasons set out the case for the Sizewell C project meeting the criteria of the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act, introduced earlier this year

BEIS said in a statement,. “Their publication brings the government a step closer to deciding on its commercial negotiations with the project developer.”

The plan is for Sizewell C to feature two EPRs producing 3200 MWe of electricity. It would be the same design as the Hinkley Point C plant, under construction in Somerset. In January, Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced GBP100 million to advance the Sizewell C project to the next stage of negotiations, and help it attract further private investment.

Sizewell C is also subject to an ongoing application for development consent, which is entirely separate to commercial negotiations on the project. The deadline for a decision on Sizewell C’s application for a development consent order has been also been set for a  July date.

Separately, the UK government is seeking new investors to take equity stakes in the Sizewell C project to replace a commitment by China General Nuclear Power. The Guardian newspaper reported that the government has bought an option to take a 20% stake in Sizewell C in a move that could ease China’s state nuclear company China General Nuclear (CGN) out of the project.

Ministers took a £100m option to invest in Sizewell C’s holding company in January and said this week it would convert that into equity if the project reaches a final investment decision.

  • What is the RAB Method?

(WNN) Under this model a company receives a license from an economic regulator to charge a regulated price to consumers in exchange for providing the infrastructure in question. Most recently, the RAB model was used to successfully finance the construction and operation of the Thames Tideway Tunnel and Heathrow’s Terminal 5. In December 2020, the UK government announced it would begin talks with EDF to enable investment in the planned Sizewell C nuclear power plant project.

The government published a statement on the procedure and criteria for designating projects to benefit from the RAB model in April this year, setting out some of the factors the Secretary of State is likely to take into account when assessing the maturity of the projects of prospective nuclear companies, and whether designating a company for the purposes of the RAB model is likely to result in value for money for consumers and taxpayers.

As required by the Act, the document is currently being consulted on with the Environment Agency, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, electricity markets regulator Ofgem and NNB Generation Company (SZC) Limited. The consultation will close in July and is the first step in potentially allowing the company to receive funding under the RAB model.

The RAB model of funding nuclear projects is expected to help the government realize its ambitions to approve up to eight new nuclear reactors by 2030, boosting UK nuclear power capacity up to 24 GW by 2050.

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