- Diablo Canyon Saved For Now
- Swiss Politicians Form Lobby Group To Call End Nuclear Plant Phaseout
- Boris Johnson Writes $809M Check for Sizewell C
- UK Government Grants $4M in Funding For Advanced Reactor Development
- Hyundai, Ultra Safe Nuclear Sign Micro Reactor Agreement
- CORE Power and MIT Get DOE Funding for Floating Nuclear Power R&D
Diablo Canyon is Saved For Now
California’s state legislature, fearing the looming threat of a major political backlash over blackouts, on Friday 9/2 passed SB486 which provides a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open through the end of the decade.
The next step in retaining the 2,256 MWe of CO2 emission free electrical generating power on the grid is for PG&E to apply for funding under a U.S. Department of Energy $6 billion program to keep open nuclear power plants that might otherwise close.
The utility is expected to submit its application this week with a decision scheduled to be made by DOE by the end of 2022. It is expected that DOE will approve the funding as DOE Secretary Granholm has already telegraphed her support for it
Late last June the agency made a change in eligibility criteria for the program to fund nuclear power plants slated to close. The policy change opens the door to life extension the Diablo Canyon power plant in California and would save 1,500 jobs.
The vote in the legislature is a victory for California Governor Gavin Newsom who was a late arrival in the movement to save the plant. In 2016 he signed off on an agreement with anti-nuclear groups and PG&E to close the reactors by 2025. He changed his mind as it became clear that promises of a combination of natural gas plans, solar, and wind power to make up the difference wasn’t going to work.
As the state is now experiencing record heat waves related to global warming, the prospect of justifying the 2016 agreement in the face of looking blackouts represented a huge political liability.
The State Government is already dealing with the paradox of on one hand pushing hard for adoption of electric cars and on the other telling drivers not to recharge them over the Labor Day weekend due to estimates of high temperatures, increased air conditioning use, and limited electricity supplies.
Newsome’s 180 degree turnaround was matched by California Senator Diane Feinstein who for decades had taken her anti-nuclear talking points about closing the plant from Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and NRDC. In a recent newspaper OP ED she reversed her long standing opposition and called for the plant to stay open.
Litigation over Gov Newsom’s legislative victory is likely just around the corner. Last month Friends of the Earth and NRDC filed a plea with the California Energy Commission. They claim the 2016 agreement is a valid contract and cannot be overridden by legislation. So far the agency has not made a public response to the submission.
PG&E faces numerous challenges in terms of operating the plant for a least another five years. After the 2016 agreement was signed, it deferred significant maintenance items since the plant was then scheduled to be closed. The cost of this work, which now must be carried out, cannot exceed the $1.4 billion loan. It is going to be close according to news media reports.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to extend the NRC licenses for the two reactors. When the 2016 agreement was signed, the utility told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) it would not seek a 20 year extension for the two plants. With the plant licenses expiring in 2025, a 20 year extension would authorize PG&E to keep operating the plant to mid-century.
Assuming PG&E notifies the NRC it has changed its mind, the agency can make a determination to keep the plants open under the current licenses while it considers the safety issues of a 20 year extension. Senator Feinstein told the Associated Press that she wrote a letter to the NRC about the issue and received assurances that the agency is, “prepared to conduct the review in the necessary timeframe.”
The process for consideration of safety issues will undoubtedly address seismic issues which will be a key attack vector of the anti-nuclear movement. The NRC has previously examined the seismic issue and declared the plant safe. That won’t deter challenges to the finding.
PG&E must now place orders for fuel for the twin reactors and plan outages for refueling which is a multi-year process. DOE Secretary Granholm is working on a uranium strategy to replace nuclear fuel supplies previously purchases from Russia. Diablo Canyon’s need for fuel through 2030 will now need to be added to it.
Separately, while the legislation passed by the California legislature calls for expedited reviews by state agencies of permits to keep the plant running, every one of these regulatory processes is fraught with peril by potential hostile interventions over getting the necessary approvals. Anti-nuclear groups have long sought, and in some cases, gained leverage over the continued operation of the plant by loading the dockets in state regulatory proceedings with their pleadings.
Praise for the Win
While uncertainty about the long future of Diablo Canyon, e.g,, beyond 2030, remains up in the air, there was positive reactions to the legislative vote on Governor Newsom’s efforts.
Craig Piercy, CEO of the American Nuclear Society, said in a statement that “California’s decision to keep Diablo Canyon running is just the latest indication of nuclear energy’s growing resurgence in the U.S.” The Nuclear Energy Institute said the California vote “mirrors actions we have seen around the country and around the world as governments recognize the critical role nuclear plays in decarbonizing the electric sector.”
Independent nonprofit Californians for Green Nuclear Power (CGNP) applauded the environmental leadership of California Governor Gavin Newsom in signing SB 846
“Governor Newsom’s team worked long and hard to establish California as a true climate leader today while protecting ratepayers and California public safety,” said CGNP Legal Assistant Gene Nelson, Ph.D.
“CGNP is optimistic the likely funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit program to Diablo Canyon’s owner will help to reduce California ratepayer costs while insuring our future grid reliability. The current California heat wave has already forced some of our state’s fossil-fired plants off line. Having reliable power for our residents is a matter of life and death.”
CGNP President Carl Wurtz said in a press release. “This has been the culmination of a decade of work for CGNP, of thousands of hours of research, filings, outreach, and testimony. It’s unfortunate it took the lights going out for many to appreciate Diablo Canyon’s value, but better late than never.”
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Swiss Politicians Form Lobby Group To Call End Nuclear Plant Phaseout
(NucNet) The country cannot do without reactors, says president of ‘Stop Blackouts’
A group of Swiss politicians has formed a lobby group which is planning to petition the government to hold a referendum on revising the country’s energy policy to guarantee adequate power supplies and keep nuclear as part of the mix.
The lobby group Stop Blackouts said it plans to launch a petition calling for changes government policy that would mean electricity supply is “guaranteed at all times” and for “any form of climate-friendly electricity generation is permitted.”
Five of the group’s six committee members are lawmakers from center and right-wing parties.
“Until recently, Switzerland had safe and virtually CO2-free electricity production: the environmentally and climate-friendly combination of hydro and nuclear power is to be abandoned for no reason at all,” the Stop Blackouts website says.
“We cannot do without nuclear power plants,” Vanessa Meury, president of the Stop Blackouts committee and the only committee member who is not a politician, told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.
Stop Blackouts quoted Werner Luginbühl, head of Switzerland’s independent electricity regulatory authority, as saying the availability of Swiss nuclear power plants can help Switzerland “avoid the worst” when it comes to power shortages. However, Mr Luginbühl warned in an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper that “if a Swiss nuclear power plant were to be disconnected from the network unexpectedly, the situation could quickly become critical”.
The Swiss government and cantons are aiming to be prepared for “extreme scenarios” in the face of possible energy shortages this winter, a top cantonal security official says. Experts have already warned that Switzerland could face electricity and gas shortages in winter despite sufficient supplies at the moment and considerable reserves.
The Stop Blackouts initiative follows a recent poll that showed the use of nuclear energy is gaining ground in Switzerland with 52% in favor of the use of reactors and against the country’s ban on building new ones.
In July 2021, Swiss media reported that talks were being held between the federal administration and the country’s nuclear power operators on the possibility of operating nuclear plants for 60 years instead of a the presently assumed 50 years. Opponents to the nuclear phaseout have warned, however, that the government’s plans to push renewables and energy savings are costly and pose risks to energy security.
In 2018 an International Energy Agency report said Switzerland’s nuclear phaseout will create an energy gap of at least 20 TWh a year that will need to be replaced with other generation technologies, possibly including new fossil fuel capacity.
In May 2017 Switzerland voted to start phasing out the country’s nuclear plants, which provide around one-third of its electricity, as part of a 2014 energy policy which will also cut consumption and increase wind and solar power generation.
In December 2019, operators retired the Mühleberg plant after 47 years of operation because investments in its future operation were seen as no longer viable.
Switzerland has four nuclear plants at three sites – Beznau-1 and -2, Gösgen, and Leibstadt. No dates have been set for the shutdowns.
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Boris Johnson Writes $809M Check for Sizewell C
Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that Britain will invest 700 million pounds ($809 million) in EDF’s planned 3.4 GWe Sizewell C nuclear plant, his last major policy announcement before stepping down from the role.
“We need to get on with Sizewell C,” Johnson said, speaking at Sizewell in Suffolk. “In the course of the next few weeks, I am absolutely confident that it will get over the line.”
The promised injection of state funding for Sizewell would come out of 1.7 billion pounds pledged by the government last year for new nuclear power plants
However, it would be years before the plant is operational. The Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, which is also being developed by French energy group EDF, is currently expected to start in 2027.
EDF has said Sizewell C would benefit from being “a near replica” of the 25 billion pound ($29 billion), Hinkley plant, and predicted it would cost around 20% less.
The UK government also hopes to find private investors for the project and has launched a new funding model which it hopes will make the project more attractive. Under the regulated-asset-base (RAB) model, companies building new plants would be paid during the construction phase, cutting down their development risk and allowing them to secure cheaper financing for the projects.
Britain’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not immediately respond to a request from the Reuters wire service for clarity over whether the 700 million investment would see the government taking a direct stake in the Sizewell project. EDF has been seeking new investors to replace the 20% equity stake in the plant previously taken by Chinese state owned enterprises. PM Johnson booted the Chinese firms from the deal citing “security concerns.”
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UK Government Grants $4M in Funding For Advanced Reactor Development
(WNN) The UK government has announced GBP3.3 million (USD3.8 million) in funding to support the development of advanced nuclear technology. Six projects aimed at developing Advanced Modular Reactor) in the UK have been selected to receive funding totaling GBP2.5 million.
The GBP3.3 million funding through the Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development and Demonstration (AMR RD&D) program – part of the GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund – will support the development of innovative nuclear technology in the UK, such as high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs). It aims to demonstrate HTGR technology by the early 2030s. The government will need to add many more zeros to the initial funding level to attain that result.
Applications of HTGRs go beyond electricity generation including process heat for industry, desalination of sea water, district heating, and hydrogen production.
In addition to work on HTGRs, it also provides grants of $250K for work on TRIO fuel.
Grantees for work on HTGRs include EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Limited; National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL); U-Battery Developments Ltd and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC)
Grantees for work on TRISO fuel include Springfield Fuel Ltd amd NNL.
In addition, the government is providing up to GBP830K to the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency to develop their capability and consider innovative regulatory approaches to HTGRs.
Energy Minister Greg Hands said: “This investment will help unlock the potential for new nuclear reactors in the UK, as we drive forward plans to boost clean, cutting-edge, homegrown technologies for our energy security, while driving down bills in the long term.”
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Hyundai, Ultra Safe Nuclear Sign Micro Reactor Agreement
Hyundai Engineering Co., announced on that it signed a framework agreement for procurement with Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. for building a next-generation micro-modular reactor (MMR) in Ontario, Canada.
Hyundai Engineering will provide power generation facilities, cooling systems and radioactive equipment for the Chalk River Laboratories.
Like batteries, multiple MMR units can be linked together to provide as much power as needed. Multiple MMR units can power communities in the middle of nowhere, large industrial sites, and cities. The modules can be combined in different ways for different sites and needs including integration with renewable micro grids.
Last June, Hyundai Engineering and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. signed a detailed design contract for the joint MMR project at the lab. The two firms said in a joint statement the advanced reactor is planned to be “up and running in 2026.”
Earlier this year, Hyundai Engineering secured exclusive rights to USNC’s MMR engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) business through an equity investment worth $30 million.
Hyundai Engineering began partnering with Ultra Safe Nuclear in mini reactor projects in 2012 with an aim to develop an electrical high-temperature gas-cooled micro modular reactor.
“After a decade-long cooperation with Ultra Safe Nuclear, the fourth generation MMR building project is now underway,” a Hyundai Engineering employee told The Korea Economic Daily. “We will direct all available resources to the project as MMRs are gaining much attention as a means to achieving carbon neutrality.”
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CORE POWER and MIT Get DOE Funding for Floating Nuclear Power R&D
The US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) has granted research funds to the MIT Energy Initiative, CORE POWER, and the Idaho National Laboratory for a three-year study into the development of offshore floating nuclear power generation in the US. (CORE Power press release)
The NEUP funding will allow collaborative research into the economic and environmental benefits of floating advanced nuclear power generation and take a close look at all aspects of building, operating, maintaining, and decommissioning such facilities.
“It is an important step forward for CORE POWER to be working with the world-renowned MIT Energy Initiative. We believe this will help us take the next step in bringing groundbreaking new nuclear technology to the maritime market,” said Mikal Bøe, chairman and CEO of UK-based CORE POWER.
“This NEUP project will among other things look at how a nuclear-powered H2Hub (hydrogen) off the coast of the US could set the scene and demonstrate how we make hydrogen production, safe, cheap and reliable by placing the production unit offshore,” Bøe said.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is funding development of regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs) across America, one of which must be powered by nuclear energy.
Tony Huston, US country head at CORE POWER, commented: “The transport of goods on the US coasts, Great Lakes and internal waterways offers strong proof of concept for nuclear powered decarbonization without the complex regulatory hurdles of moving reactors between nation states.”
MIT CANES on Benefits of Offshore Nuclear
On its website MIT’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES) wrote that offshore floating nuclear plants (image) promise to be safer, less expensive, and easier to deploy than today’s land-based plants.
Currently, building a nuclear plant is a long and expensive process plagued by site concerns such as sourcing water for cooling, and providing for the safety of the neighboring population. Building nuclear plants in shipyards, like deep-sea oil platforms, would make it possible to use greatly streamlined methods of construction—significantly cutting costs.
The offshore strategy developed at MIT proposes situating reactors in relatively deep water far away from coastal populations, linked only by an underwater power transmission line. In addition, offshore siting minimizes safety concerns by eliminating risks of earthquakes and tsunamis as accident initiators, access to the essentially infinite ocean heat sink, and ensuring no one resides within the plant’s emergency planning zone
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