- GEH Inks Contract to Build BWRX300 at Darlington
- Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear in Joint Venture to Manufacture Fuel
- Radiant Industries Partners with Centrus Energy for HALEU Fuel
- Oklo Submits Plans For Licensing Of Nuclear Fuel Recycling
- First Light Fusion to Build Demonstration Fusion Plant at UKAEA
- Renaissance Fusion Raises $16.4 million in Seed Funds
- DARPA, NASA Collaborate on Nuclear Thermal Rocket
GEH Inks Contract to Build BWRX300 at Darlington
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) this week signed a multi-party agreement to build the first of kind unit of its 300MW small modular reactor (SMR) at the Darlington Site owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
The multi-party agreement covers a range of project activities including design, engineering licensing support, construction, testing, training and commissioning. This is the first commercial contract for a grid-scale SMR in North America. In addition to OPG partners on the contract include SNC-Lavalin and Aecon.
SNC-Lavalin will provide OPG with a diverse range of expertise for the engineering and build of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s SMR. This is expected to include deploying project management, licensing, engineering, design, procurement, construction support and commissioning, as well as digital delivery capabilities in both the nuclear island and balance of plant scopes for the project.
Aecon is the provider of all construction services, including project management, construction planning and execution. Site preparation and related work is currently underway and SMR construction is expected to reach completion in the fourth quarter of 2028.
“This first commercial contract for a small modular reactor in North America marks a significant milestone in deploying SMRs in Canada and across the globe,” said Sean Sexstone, Executive Vice President, Advanced Nuclear, GEH.
According to GEH, the BWRX-300 is designed to reduce construction and operating costs competitively relative to other SMRs and full size reactors. The BWRX-300 uses commercial nuclear fuel (U235<5%) and does not require HALEU.
The SMR is a downsized ESBWR which was designed to generate 1500 MW. The full size unit was licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2014 but so far no US utilities have committed to building one. Combined Licenses were issues for FERMI III and North Anna III and remain current. Combined Licenses for Enertgy’s River Bend and Grand Gulf plants were issued but subsequently withdrawn by the utility for business reasons.
GEH said in its press statement there is growing global interest in the BWRX-300. In August 2022, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began planning and preliminary licensing for potential deployment of a BWRX-300 at the Clinch River Site near Oak Ridge, TN.
TVA has entered into a collaboration with OPG to coordinate efforts to complete and build the SMR technology and to share information to help control costs and obtain other deployment efficiencies. Also, , the NRC and CNSC are collaborating on licensing the two projects
OPG expects to build the first unit and has advised CNSC it plans to build three additional SMRs. According to the website of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the BWRX300 is currently in Phase 2 of Vendor Design Review (VDR), which is a pre-licensing activity.
CNSC licensing proceeds in three phases – site preparation, construction, and operation. The Darlington site is the only site in Canada currently licensed for a new nuclear build with an accepted environmental assessment and Site Preparation License. Pending subsequent regulatory approvals, the Darlington SMR is expected to begin providing 300MW of baseload power to the grid before the end of the decade.
Regulatory Status of Other SMRs at CNSC
In April 2021, Global First Power (GFP)submitted management system documentation in support of its application for a license to prepare a site for a small modular reactor on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited property at the Chalk River Laboratories site. On May 6, 2021, the CNSC determined that this documentation and GFP’s plan for additional submissions were sufficient to begin the technical review as part of the licensing application process.
No other SMRs have completed the VDR process. Other light water reactor designs in process as part of CNSC’s VDR program are submissions by NuScale and Holtec. Eight advanced reactor designs are also participating in the VDRF process and are in various degrees of completion of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the VDR process.
A vendor who has completed a Phase 2 Pre-Licensing VDR, has committed to increased regulatory efficiencies at the time of licensing. The results of Phase 2 will be taken into account mainly for the Construction License Application and is likely to result in increased efficiencies of technical reviews.
In December GE Hitachi submitted an application to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation for its BWRX-300 boiling water reactor to begin the generic design assessment that when successful leads to licensing a reactor. The US-Japanese company’s submission was supported by Jacobs UK. GE Hitachi has also signed an initial agreement with Sheffield Forgemasters to discuss how the manufacturer could help meet the demands of deploying the BWRX-300 in the UK. The firm is an obvious choice to fabricate the reactor pressure vessels and other large, long lead time components for the SMR.
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Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear in Joint Venture to Manufacture Fuel
Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) announced they intend to form a joint venture to manufacture commercial quantities of Tri-structural Isotropic (TRISO) particles and Ultra Safe Nuclear’s proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel.
The project will bring commercially viable, fourth-generation nuclear fuel to market for USNC’s Micro-Modular reactor (MMR) and other advanced reactor designs.
Ultra Safe Nuclear’s collaboration with Framatome follows the opening of USNC’s Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Tennessee in August 2022. In addition, the facility’s engineers employ additive manufacturing – also known as ‘3D printing’ – to fabricate FCM fuel.
The joint venture expects to begin manufacturing TRISO particles and FCM fuel in late 2025. TRISO fuel production capacity will be used in the manufacture of Ultra Safe Nuclear’s FCM fuel and available to the broader commercial market. The partners have developed concrete plans to support rapid expansion to meet demand growth in the U.S. and global markets.
Separately, TerraPower and X-Energy have committed to build their own HALEU fuel fabrication plants to support deployment of first of a kind advanced reactors under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). Unlike the conventional light water fuel that will be used by NuScale, GEH, and Holtec, the Terrapower design will use unique uranium metal fuel and X-Energy’s design will use TRISO fuel.
About the Ultra Safe MMR
The MMR Energy System is being licensed in Canada and the U.S. and will be the first commercially available “nuclear battery.” MMR deployments are moving forward, including the projects at Chalk River which is on target for first power in 2026, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, targeted for first power the following year where it is expected to generate electricity and also serve as an R&D platform for nuclear science and engineering R&D.
Prospects for HALEU Fuel
The Department of Energy (DOE), with a $700M bankroll to help the US advanced reactor industry by being the first buyer of high assay low enriched uranium fuel (HALEU), recently announced plans to spend some of its cash. DOE announced it inked a $150M deal with American Centrifuge Operating, LLC of Bethesda, Maryland, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to ramp up production to be able to produce a ton of the fuel (900Kg) every year starting in 2024.
The contract is intended to demonstrate the nation’s ability to produce HALEU fuel. DOE’s action will undoubtedly be accompanied by a short sigh of relief from the CEOs of the nation’s developers of advanced reactors who have been saying for most of this year that looking to where they will get their first fuel loads of HALEU has been their number one ‘keep awake’ issue.
But there is still a long way to go. The Centrus centrifuges will only produce enriched uranium in a gas form, which is uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The nation’s sole uranium conversion plant in Illinois has to be restarted to process the UF6 back into solid forms. Demand for HALEU will grow swiftly as there will be three fuel fabrication plants being built by advanced reactor developers to meet their specific needs and to sell HALEU fuels in other forms to other customers in the US and for export.
DOE projects that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU will be needed before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year, to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors.
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Radiant Industries Partners with Centrus Energy for HALEU Fuel
Radiant Industries, Inc, announced a partnership today with Centrus Energy to establish the domestic supply chain for the High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) needed for the broad commercial deployment of Radiant’s Kaleidos microreactor.
Centrus is currently building a demonstration scale HALEU enrichment facility in Ohio that will begin first-of-its-kind HALEU production for the Department of Energy by the end of 2023. Expanding to commercial-scale HALEU production will require substantial public and private investment as well as commercial support and offtake commitments from Radiant and other advanced reactor developers. Under its agreement with Radiant, Centrus is working to identify a path to provide a future supply of High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) to Radiant for as many as 20 Kaleidos microreactors.
Designed with a helium primary loop coolant instead of water, the Kaleidos microreactor is a safe, efficient, and climate-friendly alternative to diesel generators that will bring clean energy to remote and key locations around the globe.
Kaleidos will provide 1 MW of carbon-free electricity from a HALEU fuel core designed to last five years without refueling. Radiant plans to test a demonstration reactor within four years at Idaho National Laboratory’s Demonstration and Operation of Microreactor Experiments facility with support from the National Reactor Innovation Center. This activitywill be a critical milestone in delivering the nuclear power people want worldwide.
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Oklo Submits Plans For Licensing Of Nuclear Fuel Recycling
(NucNet) Oklo has submitted a licensing project plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a recycling facility that would produce commercial material from used light water reactor fuel.
Oklo has won $17M (€15.6M) in Department of Energy awards for technology development in support of commercializing production of advanced reactor fuel from used nuclear fuel.
The licensing project plan outlines the company’s plans for “pre-application engagement activities” that support the future licensing of a first-of-a-kind fuel recycling facility.
The company said in a press statement, “Oklo will use an electrorefining-based technology to recycle used nuclear fuel. A critical way this process differs from the legacy reprocessing methods is that electrorefining keeps the major and minor actinide elements combined. For this reason, many refer to the electrorefining process as inherently ‘proliferation-resistant.”
“The ability to economically recycle fuel is an important attribute for developing domestic fuel supplies, and offering recycling services also presents a sizeable opportunity,” said Oklo co-founder and CEO Jacob DeWitte.
Oklo is developing fission plants based on its 1.5MW Aurora microreactor design. It said in a press statement that it has more than 750MW of customer interest in signed memoranda of understanding and letters of intent, and that it is evaluating 15 different sites.
In January 2022 the NRC denied Oklo’s combined license application for a project to build and operate a plant at Idaho National Laboratory on the grounds that the company had failed to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora design. Oklo submitted its application in March 2022. In September 2022 Oklo restarted its licensing process for the project.
The proposed Aurora design, which consists of a small reactor with integrated solar panels, will use heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system.
According to Oklo, the Aurora will generate both usable heat and electricity, run for at least 20 years on one load of fuel and operate without the need for water. The plant can also recycle fuel and ultimately convert nuclear waste to clean energy.
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First Light Fusion to Build Fusion Plant at UKAEA
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (‘UKAEA’) and First Light Fusion (‘First Light’) have signed an agreement for the design and construction of a new purpose-built facility to house First Light’s Machine 4 at UKAEA’s Culham Campus in Oxfordshire.
The agreement will see both parties developing the building at Culham Campus. Architects and technical designers have been appointed, construction expected to begin in 2024.
The partnership with UKAEA and the announcement of the proposed construction of the building for Machine 4 follows the recent confirmation of net energy gain by the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Like NIF, First Light is pursuing an inertial confinement approach to fusion.
First Light’s method leverages the same physics proven by NIF but combines it with a unique approach which involves firing a projectile at a fuel pellet to force it to fuse and produce energy. This approach has been validated by UKAEA.
Although the machine itself will not generate power, it will be used to develop technology needed for future inertial confinement fusion energy powerplants.
First Light has appointed technical building design specialists, Ramboll, and architects, Scott Brownrigg. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024 with operations likely to commence in 2027.
First Light believes locating Machine 4 at Culham Campus will bring significant advantages that will expedite its development, including UKAEA’s existing expertise and supply chain infrastructure.
About First Light Fusion
First Light Fusion was founded by Professor Yiannis Ventikos, Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at University College, London, and Dr Nicholas Hawker, formerly an Engineering lecturer at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The company was spun out from the University of Oxford in July 2011, with seed capital from IP Group plc, Parkwalk Advisors Ltd and private investors. Invesco and OSI provided follow-on capital.
UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is the national research organization responsible for the development of fusion energy.
UKAEA’s program include the MAST-Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) fusion experiment and the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility, operated for scientists from around Europe in Culham, Oxford. STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is UKAEA’s ambitious program to accelerate the delivery of fusion energy, with plans to deliver a prototype powerplant producing net electricity in the 2040s in Nottinghamshire.
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Renaissance Fusion Raises $16.4 million in Seed Funds
Based in Grenoble, France, Renaissance Fusion, a start-up, recently raised $16.4 million (€15 million) in funding in a seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital. Several European investors also participated in the round, such as HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norssken. Unruly Capital led the company’s pre-seed round.
Unlike most nuclear fusion experiments that are based on tokamaks, Renaissance Fusion is working on a stellarator reactor. The company is well aware that there is a long and windy road ahead as it expects to be able to ship a small nuclear fusion reactor with a 1 GW capacity in the 2030s. It wouldn’t operate power plants directly. Instead, the company would sell its reactors to plant constructors and operators.
The company is already thinking about commercial applications that could be released before the 2030s. For instance, the company says Renaissance Fusion’s coil patterning technology could be used for MRI and energy storage: “whenever you need a strong magnetic field, a large volume and high precision,” he said.
With today’s funding round, Renaissance Fusion plans to triple the size of its team to 60 people by the end of 2023. In many ways, this is still the early days of Renaissance Fusion. So let’s see how it pans out in the coming years.
According to the startup’s founder Francesco Volpe, Renaissance Fusion is quite innovative with its use of liquid metal. Right now, the company can create liquid Lithium-based walls that are 1-centimeter thick. It will require a lot of iterations before it can be used in nuclear fusion as Renaissance Fusion estimates that it would require a thickness of 30 to 40 centimeters.
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DARPA, NASA Collaborate on Nuclear Thermal Rocket
DARPA, via its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, is collaborating with NASA to build a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engine that could expand possibilities for the space agency’s future long-duration spaceflight missions.
The goal is to test an NTR-enabled spacecraft in Earth orbit during the 2027 fiscal year. An NTR presents advantages over existing propulsion technologies, such as sending cargo to a new lunar base, humans to Mars, and robotic missions even farther.
NTR propulsion offers a high thrust-to-weight ratio around 10,000x greater than electric propulsion and with two-to-five times greater efficiency than in-space chemical propulsion.
Nuclear thermal rockets have been built before, so DRACO has a head start. About 50 years ago, the technology was tested on the ground. DRACO is now leveraging lessons learned from past NTR reactor technology, but instead of using highly-enriched uranium, DRACO is using high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel to have fewer logistical hurdles on its ambitious timeline. As an added safety precaution, DARPA plans to engineer the system so that the DRACO engine’s fission reaction will turn on only once it reaches space.
Fission, the same process used for nuclear power, is the splitting of atoms. It creates high levels of heat that can turn rocket propellant such as hydrogen from a liquid to a gas phase. In the NTR, that gaseous propellant is accelerated out a converging/diverging nozzle in the exact same way as a conventional chemical rocket engine.
The high performance of an NTR is enabled by the reactor passing its heat along to its rocket propellant. DRACO’s proposed solid core NTR temperatures could reach almost 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring use of advanced materials.
Using a nuclear thermal rocket allows for faster transit time, reducing risk for astronauts. Reducing transit time is a key component for human missions to Mars, as longer trips require more supplies and more robust systems. Maturing faster, more efficient transportation technology will help NASA meet its Moon to Mars Objectives.
Other benefits to space travel include increased science payload capacity and higher power for instrumentation and communication. In a nuclear thermal rocket engine, a fission reactor is used to generate extremely high temperatures. The engine transfers the heat produced by the reactor to a liquid propellant, which is expanded and exhausted through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. Nuclear thermal rockets can be three or more times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion.
“NASA will work with our long-term partner, DARPA, to develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as soon as 2027. With the help of this new technology, astronauts could journey to and from deep space faster than ever – a major capability to prepare for crewed missions to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
“NASA is uniquely positioned to provide guidance on the challenging rocket engine and cryogenic fluid management specifications with liquid hydrogen to meet specific mission needs,” said Dr. Tabitha Dodson, DARPA program manager for DRACO.
“Since the NTR uses propellant more efficiently, it offers more aggressive trajectories and creative burn profiles to move heavy cargo more quickly in the cislunar domain as compared to today’s in-space propulsion methods.”
“We will conduct several experiments with the reactor at various power levels while in space, sending results back to operators on Earth, before executing the full-power rocket engine test remotely,” said Dodson. “These tests will inform the approach for future operation of NTR engines in space.”
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