- Japan’s PM Kishida Launches Major Push for Nuclear Energy
- South Korea Signs $2.25 billion Deal for Egyptian Nuclear Project
- India Continues Its Commitment to Build 700 MWe PHWRs with Two More
- X-energy Completes $40 Million DOE Project Milestone
- Holtec Ramps Up Its SMR Program; Seeks Restart of Palisades
- Rolls-Royce to Open Dutch Market for its 470 MWe PWR Reactor
- NuScale Power and Fermi Energia Sign MOU in Estonia
- DOE on the Hunt for Nuclear Fuel to Reduce Reliance on Russia for It
Japan’s PM Kishida Launches Major Push for Nuclear Energy
- He wants to restart nine more reactors by this winter and 17 in all
- Japan is considering development of new nuclear reactors including SMRs
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (profile) this week took a bold step to address looming energy shortages, potential blackouts, and soaring energy costs to keep the lights on and air conditioning running during record heat waves. The government announced plans to speed up nuclear reactor restarts and to have up to nine reactors restarted by winter to cope with the looming energy crunch. The combined effort will be a major test of public sentiment towards nuclear energy which has been in the red zone of “no way” since the Fukushima crisis of 2011.
Kishida aims to restart seven more reactors by summer 2023 and to prolong the operational life of other reactors to beyond 60 years from the initial 40 years limit set by his predecessors.
The main drivers are concerns about power shortages and the threat of Russia cutting off natural gas supplies as a result of Japan’s alignment with western powers regarding the war in Ukraine. Energy blackouts, regardless of the cause, are detrimental to the ruling power retaining that status.
In 2019 nuclear power accounted for 6% percent of Japan’s electricity supply according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The agency says that in 2022 the new goal for Japan is 20-22%. By the summer of 2023, Kishida has expectations that all 17 nuclear power plants that have passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety screening will be back online.
Kishida has instructed the government to come up with a detailed plan by the end of the year, with the goal of stabilizing the country’s energy supply and “gaining the understanding of the public” on the role of nuclear power in developing a sustainable source of energy. The METI is now studying how to safely build next-generation nuclear power plants in addition to re-energizing, literally, the existing fleet.
Until recently, prior Japanese government administrations took the position that under no circumstances would they consider building new reactors to replace aged reactors and hung their hat on the peg of 40 years of service as milestone for shutting down a reactor. Kinshida’s new stance represents a sharp reversal of all of these policies.
Electricity Shortages are Driving Changes to Public Perceptions of Nuclear
The public may be receptive to the prime minister’s message. Last March the government warned that there would be a shortage of electricity despite a winter season that reportedly dropped the temperature in Tokyo to just above freezing. This past June the government asked the public to cut back on air conditioning. Clearly, there’s a message in these events.
The shortages have been caused by a combination of closed nuclear power plants, shut down coal fired power plants, and record high costs for liquified natural gas.
The Washington Post reported that a recent poll asked about restarting nuclear reactors that have cleared the safety review. The results are that 58% were in favor while 39% opposed. The poll, conducted by Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun and the Waseda University Institute for Advanced Social Sciences, was the first time in five years of public polling by the organizations that supporters outweighed opponents with regard to relying on nuclear energy.
The Bloomberg wire service put it succinctly this way, “Japan is facing another winter where electricity demand is expected to be right up against supply. The reality is dawning that it can’t oppose Russian energy, climate change and nuclear power all at once.”
No everyone is onboard despite a national energy crisis. The Washington Post also reported that opposition parties in Japan will likely seize on the issue making it politically difficult for local government leaders to support rebooting nuclear plants. Given these political sensitivities, power companies may also have concerns about investing in new nuclear plants including SMRs and advanced designs.
Nuclear Safety Will Continue to Rank High as a Key Public Concern
One of the most closely watched effort to restart reactors involves the massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata province which has five 1000 MWe BWRs and two 1300 MWe BWRs. Local opposition to restarting the two 1300 MWe BWR, which are the newest units, remains strong. Niigata Provincial officials have made entire careers getting elected to office by engaging in vigorous media bashing of the plant management’s missteps in dealing with the public’s safety concerns.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has contributed to the problem of a lack of public confidence in its operations with repeated miscommunications about minor incidents at the plants. These incidents included a transformer fire, other minor fires, and uncontrolled minor releases of radioactivity from the plants and with issues involving handling of low-level radioactive waste management operations.
Toyoshi Fuketa, commissioner of Japan’s nuclear watchdog (profile of commissioners), the Nuclear Safety Authority (NRA), told wire services that despite PM Kinshida’s drive to open more reactors, his agency’s safety standards are not affected by the government’s nuclear energy policy. He also said that nuclear reactor life extension beyond 40 years would need “careful examination.”
According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) profile of Japan’s nuclear fleet, the NRA’s glacial approach to progress in reviewing reactor restarts is a major challenge for Kinshida’s push to reopen them. The NRA pre-operational inspections, with reference to the engineering work program, took an average of 137 days for the five reactors that had restarted by end 2016. For the five reactors that have started since, the inspections took an average of over 200 days. The NRA’s dismal record of gumming up the works speaks for itself.
Plans for New Full Size Reactors are in the Mix
Kishida has called for proposals for the development and construction of “new innovative reactors designed with new safety mechanisms.” He called on the government to speed up its examination of “every possible measure” and set a deadline for the end of 2022 to have a plan ready to go forward. That may extend to jaw boning with the NRA about its methods in approving new starts.
“In order to overcome our imminent crisis of a power supply crunch, we must take our utmost steps to mobilize all possible policies in the coming years and prepare for any emergency,” Kishida said.
“It is extremely important to secure all options to redesign a stable energy supply for our country,” METI’s Yasutoshi Nishimura told wire services. “From that perspective, we will also consider all options regarding nuclear power.”
Japan hasn’t built a new reactor since the Fukushima crisis. In 2011 there were three units under construction and another six in the planning stages. It’s conceivable that the six sites in the planning stage could be reconfigured to be populated with SMRs with multiple small units combining to produce the equivalent of a large 1000 MWE reactor.
For the nearly 12 GWe of planned reactors, Japan could instead build 39 300 MWe SMRs spreading them around the country to support grid resilience and bring the economic benefits of jobs to more communities boosting national support for nuclear energy in the bargain.
The World Nuclear Association in its profile of Japan’s nuclear energy industry posted these numbers as of June 2022 for nuclear reactors under construction and planned reactors which were deferred following the Fukushima crisis in 2011.
Japan to Pursue Development of SMRs but How?
Kishida instructed his government to consider developing small nuclear reactors (SMRs). The action is a signal that there needs to be a renewed emphasis on nuclear energy. This isn’t a new position for him. Last June at a party conference he spoke with enthusiasm about the potential for SMRs
“Going forward, it will be important to secure technologies such as SMRs and small fusion reactors,” Kishida said during the LDP election.
More recently, Kishida said on August 24th, “The government is not just imagining” the building of new nuclear plants. At a possible plan for discussion will be presented [to the Diet] within the calendar year.”
At the same conference Japan’s major power companies, while acknowledging development is still a long way off, said they are positive about the future. A Kansai Electric Power Co. spokesperson remarked, “In addition to studying the design of next-generation light water reactors, we would like to proceed with technical studies on new reactor types, including SMRs and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors.”
Getting to a Viable SMR Design for Construction in Japan
Japan’s problem is that it does not have a viable SMR design that is ready to come off the drawing boards. This raises the previously unthinkable prospect of importing an SMR via licensing from a country that has one ready to go.
Japan is behind the technology eight ball in terms of developing its own SMRs. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority has no policy framework for dealing with them. In addition to being notoriously sluggish in reviewing reactor restarts, so far in its history has not reviewed and approved a single application for a new reactors of any kind or size.
Last June Takanori Tanaka, a fellow at the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, told the Japan Forward, “If we are serious about development, we must secure a site on the grounds of a national research institute for construction and verification of an SMR, as they have done in the United States and Canada.”
He called for increased funding to build a first of a kind commercial prototype, not a test reactor, to advance the use of the design in Japan. To get that kind of budget authority, the nuclear industry in Japan will have to overcome the inherent conservatism of the Japanese government bureaucracy which is wary of negative public opinion about new publicly funded nuclear energy initiatives.
Private Sector Initiatives for SMRs in Japan
In the private sector, JGC Holdings Corporation (JGC HD) and IHI Corporation have invested in NuScale Power, One feature of NuScale SMR is that multiple modules can be built over time in an underground silo. As a selling point on nuclear safety, the NuScale SMR, in the event of an accident, the nuclear core could be cooled by natural circulation without the need for operators.
NuScale’s international efforts have recently gotten a boost with US government funded progress towards building its SMR in Romania. Earlier this month it signed an MOU with Estonia’s Fermi Energia to explore opportunities in that country. (See report below in this post)
Japan’s Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy is currently developing a 300 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR) SMR, the “BWRX-300,” in collaboration with U.S.-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. The design has gained traction in Canada at Ontario Power Generation and in the US at the Tennessee Valley Authority. The two utilities are collaborating on their respective efforts to take the BWR to licensing (CNSC)(NRC) and construction. The two regulatory agencies have an agreement to coordinate reviews of new reactors designs to speed up approvals in both countries.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is also working on the demonstration of a small PWR-type SMR. According to a World Nuclear News report from May 2022, the company is developing a small modular light water reactor, with a power output of 300 MWe. Providing power for distributed, small-scale grids, the SMR will feature fully passive safety systems and an integrated reactor vessel design.
What’s interesting about Kishida’s new nuclear policy is that his hometown is Hiroshima. This makes him an unexpected advocate for new nuclear energy projects. On the other hand, it gives him credence for his policy because of this background.
From the perspective of energy security and dealing with climate change, Japan’s policy shift on nuclear energy could not have come a day too soon.
Japanese Fuel Fabrication Plant to Restart
(WNN) Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel Co (MNF) is to resume production of pressurized water reactor fuel at its refurbished Tokai plant after receiving approval from the Japanese nuclear regulator.
The NRA introduced new regulatory standards in 2013, following the Fukushima accident. MNF suspended production at the 440 tU/year Tokai fabrication plant in 2018 while construction work was carried out to meet the new requirements. Fuel fabrication is expected to begin immediately.
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South Korea Signs $2.25 billion Deal for Egyptian Nuclear Project
South Korea has signed a $2.25 billion contract with a Russian state-run nuclear energy company to provide components and construct turbine buildings for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, officials said Thursday.
According to South Korea’s presidential office and trade ministry, the state-run Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power was subcontracted by Russia’s Atomstroyexport to provide to construct turbine buildings and other non-nuclear structures at the plant being built in Dabaa. The Mediterranean coastal town is about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Cairo.
Atomstroyexport (ASE) is a subsidiary of Rosatom, a state-owned Russian nuclear conglomerate. The company has a contract with Egypt to deliver four 1200 MWe VVER reactors through 2030. The project also includes grid improvements to delivery electricity to customers. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power’s part of project is from 2023 to 2029.
Although the project was announced in April 2018, Egypt’s nuclear safety agency did not give a go ahead to break ground until last month. The huge project is being paid for almost entirely by Russia with Egypt covering just 15% of the costs.
The bureaucratic delay came as a surprise because ASE is building four similar units in Turkey at the Mediterranean coastal town of Akkuyu in Mersin province. The first of the four VVER type PWRs, which broke ground in 2018, is scheduled to be completed next year and the fourth one in 2026. Egypt’s Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (ENRRA) apparently never took the opportunity to satisfy some of their their safety concerns by taking a 400 mile flight to the Turkish site to kick the tires.
A senior aide of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the negotiations with ASE were also delayed by “unexpected variables,” mainly Russia’s war on Ukraine and the U.S led sanctions campaign against Moscow over its aggression. South Korean officials said the United States was consulted in advance about the deal and that the technologies being supplied by Seoul for the project would not clash with international sanctions against Russia.
Go Myong-hyun, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told South Korean news media that the deal wouldn’t have been possible without an export approval by the United States as the components to be provided by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power likely include U.S. technology.
President Yoon’s office expressed hope that South Korea’s participation in the Dabaa project would help the country gain a foothold in future nuclear projects across Africa. Ghana and Kenya have kicked off ambitious plans to build full size reactors by the 2030 timeframe. South Korea is also pursuing opportunities to export to the Czech Republic, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
Yoon’s office said the Dabaa project is South Korea’s biggest export of nuclear power technology since 2009, when a South Korean-led consortium won a $20 billion contract to build four 1400 MWe PWR type nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates.
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India Continues Its Commitment to Build 700 MWe PHWRs
India’s largest power producer is looking to develop another nuclear project just weeks after announcing its entry into the sector.
The Bloomberg wire service reported that a venture between NTPC Ltd., which relies mostly on coal to supply energy to the world’s fastest growing population, and India’s monopoly nuclear developer NPCIL .is in advanced talks with the government to develop two 700 MWe PHWRs in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
The announcement follows a similar one earlier this month from NTPC, which said it’s seeking to build two 700 MWE PHWR reactors at Gorakhpur in the northern state of Haryana.
India is relying on the indigenous 700 MWe PHWR design for its fleet because it does not require reactor pressure vessels, relies almost entirely on natural uranium for fuel, and all of the components can be soured from Indian firms.
India’s refusal to set aside its so-called “supplier liability law” has frozen out western nuclear reactor vendors from its domestic market. Only Rostatom, which self-insures as an agency of the Russian government, is building reactors all of them at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. There two 1000 MWe PWR type reactors are in operation, two more are under construction, and two more are planned.
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X-energy Completes $40 Million DOE Project Milestone
X-Energy, which is developing a high temperature gas reactor (HTGR), has completed a major milestone in its development of the reactor design funded by a $40 million cost shared agreement with the Department of Energy.
X-energy is one of two U.S. companies moving forward with funding under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. The company plans to site a four-unit Xe-100 power plant in eastern Washington state at a site near the Columbia Generating Station.
Over the next year, X-energy plans to submit additional topical reports to the NRC as part of the overall licensing process in addition to selecting a specific site for their demonstration project. The company plans to submit a construction permit application to the NRC by the end of 2023. A separate operating license will be needed from the NRC for each of the four first-of-a-kind units.
Plans for Nuclear TRISO Fuel Production
X-energy is also seeking to license and operate first commercial nuclear fuel facility in Tennessee dedicated to fabrication of HALEU fuel.
“The Advanced Reactor Concepts award was the catalyst for X-energy’s progress toward the deployment of the Xe-100 reactor and our TRISO-based fuel fabrication facility,” said Dr Pete Pappano, President of TRISO-X.
X-energy’s pebble bed high-temperature gas reactor uses specialized TRISO particle fuel that the company is confident cannot melt in their reactor design. DOE previously invested more than $30 million through two separate cost-shared agreements to further develop the Xe-100 and demonstrate a production process for its fuel.
The company successfully submitted their application to NRC in early April to build a commercial-scale “TRISO-X” Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3). When commissioned, TF3 will bring an estimated 400 new jobs to the state of Tennessee and become a key enabler for other advanced reactor designs leveraging TRISO fuel. TF3 could be operational as early as 2025.
“DOE is committed to supporting our industry partners in their efforts to deploy advanced reactors that help grow our economy during this clean energy transition,” said Alice Caponiti, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Reactor Fleet and Advanced Reactor Deployment. “X-energy has made tremendous strides in moving the Xe-100 design toward eventual deployment.”
Separately, X-energy recently signed a Letter of Intent with Dow Chemical to collaborate on the possible deployment of Xe-100 small modular reactor technology to provide electricity and process heat at one of Dow’s manufacturing sites.
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Holtec Ramps Up Its SMR Program
(WNN contributed to this report) Holtec International says it has “significantly boosted” its clean energy R&D budget and now aims to bring the first SMR-160 online as early as 2029 a year ahead of its previous schedule. It plans to pair the SMR-160 with a clean energy storage and generation system dubbed the Green Boiler.
The company said it has been encouraged by the US government’s “supportive posture” including the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which it said will “turbocharge the rise of nuclear energy in the US.” It envisages its SMR-160 advanced reactor, coupled with its clean energy storage and generation (CESG) technology, as the centerpiece of a “distributed clean-energy ecosystem.”
Holtec recently submitted an application to the Department of Energy for a $7.4 billion federal loan to enable it to increase capacity for SMR production at its existing manufacturing facilities, to construct and operate four SMR-160s, and to build a new Holtec Heavy Industries (HHI) complex for high capacity manufacturing of components and modules for SMR-160s. It is still evaluating the location of HHI, but said the proposed plant would likely be close to the site of its first US SMR-160.
Several sites are being considered for the first SMR-160. The sites include the former Oyster Creek nuclear power plant site, for which work is already under way on the site-specific plant layouts and environmental monitoring that will be needed to support an application for a construction permit. Holtec took over ownership of the New Jersey plant for decommissioning in 2019 following Exelon’s closure of the of the single-unit boiling water reactor unit the previous year.
Other nuclear decommissioning sites owned by the company, as well as “nuclear, coal and greenfield sites”, are also being considered, Holtec said. This statement is a significant change from its previous statement that it was not considering other D&D sites for an SMR.
Restart of Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan?
The New York Times reported on August 22nd that Holtec is considering applying to the NRC to restart the Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan. Holtec purchased the plant from Entergy on June 30th for the purpose of decommissioning it.
“There are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be bridged,” the company said in a statement to the newspaper, “but we will work with the state, federal government and a yet to be identified third-party operator to see if this is a viable option.”
Commissioned in 1971 the 805 MWe PWR was owned at operated by Entergy at the time it was sold to Holtec for decommissioning. In April Michigan Governor Whitmer appeals to the federal government to use money from a $6 billion DOE fund to keep the plant open. She said keeping the plant on the grid would help fulfill her goal of making Michigan carbon neutral by 2050 and secure hundreds of higher-paying jobs in Van Buren County’s Covert Township which is where the plant is located. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, it is 40 miles due west of Kalamazoo, MI (2020 population 76,000).
About the SMR-160
The SMR-160 is a pressurized light-water reactor, generating 160 MWe (525 MWt) using commercially available low-enriched uranium fuel, with flexibility to produce process heat for industrial applications and hydrogen production. Holtec finalized an agreement with South Korea’s Hyundai in 2021 for the turnkey supply of the SMR-160 worldwide. (conceptual image below)
The company envisages pairing an SMR-160 plant with a its Green Boiler CESG system to store surplus energy from the power plant itself and from the general grid, which can then be used in periods of generation deficit. A variation of the CESG system called HI-HEAT has been engineered to provide district heating systems.
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Rolls-Royce Seeks to Open Dutch Market for its 470 MWe PWR Reactor
Rolls-Royce SMR has signed an exclusive agreement with the Dutch development company ULC-Energy to work together to deploy Rolls-Royce 470 MWe PWR in the Netherlands.
(Note to readers: Rolls-Royce for marketing purposes calls its PWR an “SMR” but its size exceeds the IAEA limit of 300 MWe for SMR designs)
Rolls-Royce SMR and ULC-Energy said in their joint statement they believe nuclear energy can accelerate the transition to a clean, affordable, and reliable energy system in the Netherlands.
ULC-Energy B.V. is a nuclear development company, established in 2021 in The Netherlands and based in Amsterdam. ULC-Energy’s mission is to accelerate decarbonization in the Netherlands by developing nuclear energy projects that efficiently integrate in residential and industrial energy networks in The Netherlands.
Dirk Rabelink, ULC-Energy’s CEO, has experience with uranium mining. At BHP Billiton Dirk led the commercial nuclear fuel activities for over 5 years. He also worked as an investment banker in London.
ULC-Energy intends to develop nuclear projects deploying modern, state-of-the-art, modular reactors that are based on proven technology. The Rolls-Royce reactor has been selected by ULC-Energy as its nuclear energy technology provider of choice.
According to Rolls-Royce, 90% of its PWR reactor can be built in factory conditions, limiting on-site activity primarily to assembly of pre-fabricated, pre-tested, modules which significantly reduces project risk and has the potential to drastically shorten build schedules.
Tom Samson, CEO of Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “This is an important and exciting step forward towards deploying Rolls-Royce SMRs in the Netherlands. Working under the agreement with ULC-Energy, as a developer who will deploy our technology, we will pursue a range of opportunities to provide affordable low-carbon energy for domestic and industrial uses.”
Dirk Rabelink from ULC-Energy, said, “Challenging energy market conditions, particularly in Western Europe, have clarified the importance of having reliable and affordable energy systems. The Dutch Government believes that nuclear can and should play a meaningful role in the Netherlands. The Rolls-Royce SMR is ideally suited for the Dutch market. At 470 MW, and with a capacity factor >95%, each unit makes a meaningful difference and can be deployed efficiently to either supply power to the grid, or supply power and heat to dedicated industrial users.”
UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “It is fantastic to see UK firms like Rolls-Royce SMR leading the way on sustainable energy and exporting green technology around the world.
Last December the new Cabinet in the Netherlands pledged to allocate 35 billion euros for climate measures over the next ten years. A big chunk of it, more than EUR5 billion, will allocated to support construction of two new nuclear reactors.
World Nuclear News reports that the Netherlands’ new coalition government has placed nuclear power at the heart of its climate and energy policy. Some EUR500 million (USD564 million) has been earmarked to support new nuclear build in the period to 2025. The new government said it will assist parties wishing to bid for the two unit nuclear power station. This will also mean financing. The level of financial support, including loan and loan guarantee mechanisms, rate guarantees, etc., are still to be determined. The government did not set a date for a tender for the reactors.
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NuScale Power and Fermi Energia Sign MOU in Estonia
- The agreement to explore how NuScale’s innovative technology can benefit Estonia’s carbon-free energy goals
NuScale Power (NuScale) announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Fermi Energia, an Estonian energy company that is looking to adopt clean energy power sources to meet the country’s ambitious climate goals.
Under the agreement, Fermi Energia will evaluate NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) design for deployment in Estonia.
This is the latest in a series of MOUs signed by Fermi Energia which is seeking the best bang for the buck in an SMR developer. The Estonian firm is also on the hunt for major investor funding beyond the current startup funds it has obtained to explore partnerships.
Under this new MOU, NuScale will support Fermi Energia as it conducts further analysis and considers deploying a NuScale VOYGR SMR power plant in country to meet clean, baseload energy needs by 2031.
“Considering the geopolitics of today, this agreement builds upon the existing momentum and strong interest from the international community who are looking to NuScale’s SMR technology as the premier, flexible, and cost-competitive climate solution,” said John Hopkins, NuScale Power President and Chief Executive Officer.
“The great advantage of the new generation of small modular reactors is clearly manifested in the case of Estonia. They fit better into the electricity grid, are more flexible and economical to operate, and meet stricter safety requirements than the existing nuclear plants,” said Kalev Kallemets, Fermi Energia CEO and co-founder.
“Before choosing the most suitable technology for Estonia, we will conduct a comprehensive analysis and evaluate which of the small reactors that will become market-ready in the near future best meets Estonia’s needs to produce CO2-free energy year-round, in any weather, at an affordable price.”
Estonia has committed to stop using oil shale, currently its largest source of energy, in its power plants by 2030. To replace this greenhouse gas intensive power source, Fermi Energia has advocated to utilize SMR technology to secure the country’s energy independence.
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DOE on the Hunt for Nuclear Fuel to Reduce Reliance on Russia for It
DOE Assistant Secretary Kathryn Huff told the DC news media this week she is on the hunt for alternatives for Russian nuclear fuel. The Biden administration is planning a future for the U.S. nuclear fleet without relying on Russian uranium because of the war in Ukraine. Huff named securing nuclear fuel for the US reactor fleet as a key priority in a Q&A post on the DOE web site last June.
“The U.S. is acting with the same initiative on nuclear fuel as the Europeans are with respect to natural gas: develop alternatives to Russian supplies, and do it fast,” Huff said.
The power sector could voluntarily stop doing business with Russian uranium providers, as has happened in other industries, or Congress could ban imports as it did with Russian fossil fuels. Legislation currently before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would ban Russian uranium imports.
Either way, reliance on uranium sourced from Russia poses both energy security and national security risks. Huff said these risks add a sense of urgency to her quest.
“Russia is not a trustworthy source of our fuel, and we need to find alternatives here and build up that supply chain. “We have the largest nuclear fleet in the world, and we currently do not have the capability to provide fuel for all of our reactors.”
The problem is the in terms of building new enrichment capacity, it’s not as simple as adding water and microwaving a bowl of oatmeal. Huff says DOE needs to prime the pump to get the market moving and suppliers to ramp up to meet US demand for nuclear fuel.
“Worldwide, there’s not enough capacity to replace that gap from trusted sources. So, it’s our responsibility to encourage and incentivize that enrichment and conversion capability here in the U.S. so that we can return to a time when we have a more fulsome capability.”
DOE plans to offer long-term contracts to buy enriched uranium, giving US-based suppliers of nuclear fuel a reason to build new facilities across the entire nuclear fuel production cycle. The ramped up demand for us nuclear fuel may also stimulate activity at US uranium mines for both hard rock and ISR sites.
The need for nuclear extends to high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). This is the fuel, enriched between 5% and 20%, what the next generation of reactors will use. advanced reactor developers were expecting to source from Russia before the war changed things. Congress just authorized $700 million in new funding for DOE to develop HALEU in the US which is funding that Huff pledged to roll out “as quickly as humanly possible.”
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