- NRC Requires New License Renewal for Diablo Canyon to Effort to Stay Open
- South Korea Offers to Build Four Nuclear Reactors at Turkey’s Sinop Site
- Bulgaria’s Ambitious Plan for Four New Nuclear Reactors
- EDF Proposes New 1200 MW EPRs for Kazakhstan
- NASA, DARPA Will Test Nuclear Engine for Future Mars Missions
NRC Requires New License Renewal for Diablo Canyon to Effort to Stay Open
(WNN contributed to this report) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which charges nuclear utilities nearly $300/hr for its engineers to review license applications for life extension, or renewal, has socked it to Diablo Canyon big time.
Sitting on its hands in the federal government’s equivalent of an ivory tower in Rockville, MD, the agency did what all bureaucracies do when faced with a novel set of circumstances. It ducked and ran for cover.
In a letter to the utility, the agency cited “the lack of relevant precedent” to support the request by PG&E which formally asked the NRC to resume its review of the license renewal application for the Diablo Canyon plant after the state of California passed legislation that would enable the plant to continue operating until 2030.
The agency talks a lot about its “risk informed” approach to licensing, but when the opportunity presents itself to walk the talk, the agency apparently waffles on its commitment.
Plus, whatever happened to the NRC’s promise to California Senator Diane Feinstein made last September.
Senator Feinstein told the Associated Press that she wrote a letter to the NRC about the licensing issue and received assurances that the agency is, “prepared to conduct the review in the necessary timeframe.”
Conducting a major “do over” of the utility’s previous license renewal effort doesn’t sound like the kind of assurance Senator Feinstein had in mind. Every anti-nuclear wing nut in California now has a “license,” so to speak, to seek every method of intervention allowed by the NRC’s convoluted regulatory pathway to a license renewal to prevent the NRC from ever making a decision.
According to the NRC and PG&E, the “timely” NRC license renewal application (LRA) process will take a minimum of 18 months after PG&E’s LRA is submitted to the agency which is expected by the end of 2023. This is the best case if there is no hearing required. Unit 1’s operating license expires a few months later in 2024. Unit 2 follows 12 months later. There is no time to lose – literally.
The anti-nuclear strategy will likely be “paralysis by analysis” to hold the future of the twin reactors in limbo. Doing so will prevent the utility and the federal government from effectively planning for another 20 years of carbon free generation of electricity by the plant. As for all of California’s “green” consumers buying electric cars, their power will come from fossil fueled power plants.
The upside down nature of the NRC’s thinking is a significant impediment to the Biden administration’s efforts to promote decarbonization of the electric power section of the US economy. Here is where things stand as a result.
Status of License Renewal For Diablo Canyon
Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) plans to submit a new license renewal application by the end of 2023 for its Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) because the NRC said it will not resume its review of the previously submitted and subsequently withdrawn application.
PG&E submitted its application to renew the operating licenses for the two pressurized water reactors in 2009, but withdrew it in 2018 after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a joint proposal from the company together with labor and environmental organizations like NRDC, Sierra Club, and others, to close the plant at the end of its current licenses, in 2024 for unit 1 and 2025 for unit 2.
At that time, it was inexplicably presumed that the plant’s output would no longer be required as California focused on an energy policy that relied on natural gas plants, energy efficiency, and renewables.
Guess what? The plan has proved to be unworkable with grid reliability issues have prompted rush to rethink on the plant’s early closure. The California State Legislature, understanding that blackouts and brownouts lead to lost elections, overwhelming approved an emergency funding bill for Diablo Canyon last September and in record time to address key maintenance issues for the plant.
Senate Bill 846 allows the two reactors to operate for up to five years beyond 2025 to act as a bridging technology to ensure a reliable energy system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions until additional renewable and zero-carbon energy sources come online. It also includes a $1.4 billion loan to PG&E.
What PG&E Asked of NRC
The utility asked the NRC to resume its review of the license renewal application “as it existed” when the review ceased in 2016, “including all associated correspondence and commitments.”
PG&E said it would “develop and submit an amendment” to the previously withdrawn license renewal application that identifies changes to the current licensing basis that materially affect the contents of the withdrawn application.
Alternatively, PG&E requested an exemption from 10 CFR 2.109(b), which provides that if a nuclear power plant licensee files a sufficient license renewal application “at least 5 years before the expiration of the existing license, the existing license will not be deemed to have expired until the application has been finally determined.”
Specifically, the company requested timely renewal protection under 10 CFR 2.109(b) if it submitted a new license renewal application for Diablo Canyon by 31 December 2023.
NRC’s Rejection Letter
In a letter dated 01/23/2023, the NRC told PG&E that “based on NRC regulations, NRC’s Principles of Good Regulation, the lack of sufficient information to support your request that the staff resume its review of the withdrawn application, and the lack of relevant precedent to support that request,(italics added) the NRC staff will not initiate or resume the review of the withdrawn DCPP application.
“This decision does not prohibit you from resubmitting your license renewal application under oath and affirmation, referencing information previously submitted, and providing any updated or new information to support the staff’s review.”
Hold on to Your Hats
The NRC added that it has not made a determination on PG&E’s request for an exemption from 10 CFR 2.109(b). “The NRC staff is evaluating that exemption request and expects to provide a response in March 2023.”
Hold on to your hats ladies and gentlemen. If the NRC does not approve the requested exemption, it is going to be a rough ride in Rockville for Diablo Canyon.
As noted previously, the NRC relies on “precedent” in dealing with licensing matters. In a comment to this blog post, reader Brian Nichols points out that the NRC as recently as March 2022 granted an “exemption” related the license renewal of the Dresden nuclear power plant which is located in Morris, IL, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, IL.
Mr. Nichols writes, “The NRC has already granted exemptions for 10 CFR 2.109(b), so this should be the route that is taken. As long as that happens, then all will be fine. The NRC is afraid of precedents and the re-activation of a previously withdrawn application would have been just that.”
The Federal Register Notice documenting the exemption to Dresden, granted by the NRC on 03/15/22, was published on 03/22/22. The full text of the FR notice follows below.
“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued an exemption in response to an October 28, 2021, request from Exelon Generation Company, LLC to allow the submittal of sufficient Dresden Nuclear Power Station, Units 2 and 3, subsequent license renewal applications no later than 3 years prior to expiration of the existing renewed operating licenses and still place the licenses in timely renewal under NRC regulations.”
One would expect that the NRC, having previously granted an exemption under analogous circumstances, will also grant one to Diablo Canyon given its current circumstances.
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South Korea Offers to Build Four Nuclear Reactors at Turkey’s Sinop Site
South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) said last week it has submitted a preliminary proposal to Turkey to take part in a project to build four nuclear power plants at or near the former Sinop site on Turkey’s northern Black Sea coast.
KEPCO chief Cheong Seung-il met with Turkey’s energy minister, Fatih Donmez, presenting a proposal to build four 1400 MW PWR type commercial nuclear reactors there.
The two countries have been in talks about the project, which is forecast to be worth about $32.55 billion), since December 2022. The proposal includes South Korea’s plan to be the vendor and the EPC for the project.
“The two sides began discussions on the project in earnest. They will carry out a feasibility test to come up with an optimum way to push for the project,” KEPCO said in a release.
Cheong has stressed that 10 nuclear reactors based on the advanced APR1400 technology have been successfully built and managed both at home and abroad, including four at the Barakah nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates. He said this makes South Korea a credible business partner that meets customer nations’ budgets and construction periods while ensuring safety.
“The main contents of the proposal include the introduction of KEPCO and Korea’s excellent nuclear power plant construction capabilities, the business structure of the Turkey nuclear power plant, the construction period, and localization,” KEPCO said in a statement.
The company added, “With the submission of a preliminary proposal by KEPCO, full-fledged discussions for the export of new nuclear power plants to Turkey began, and KEPCO plans to conduct a project feasibility study jointly with Turkey, expected to derive the optimal business promotion plan.”
Four VVER-1200 reactors are currently being built by Russia at Akkuyu on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast under a 2010 intergovernmental agreement. Two further sites were proposed for nuclear development: Sinop, which is central on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, and Ignaeda, which is on the Black Sea in the European part of Turkey.
Various plans have been discussed for the two proposed sites. Four 1100 MW Atmea1 units by a joint venture of Framatome and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were discussed for Sinop and an intergovernmental agreement was signed with Japan giving it “exclusive negotiating rights to build a nuclear power plant.”
The project never got off the ground due to a combination of escalating costs and uncertainties around the fact the new reactor design had never been through a safety design review by any nation’s regulatory process.
Separately, since 2016 Turkey has been considering a multi-reactor power station at Ignaeda on the country’s western Black Sea coast not far from Turkey’s border with Bulgaria.
Multiple discussions have reportedly taken place with Westinghouse and separately with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) regarding AP1000s and SNPTC’s development of them, the CAP1400.
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Bulgaria’s Ambitious Plan for Four New Nuclear Reactors
(WNN contributed to this report) According to English language media reports from Sofia, Bulgaria, Energy minister Rossen Hristov has announced plans for two new reactors at Kozloduy and two at Belene. Previously, the ministry had closed off further consideration of new reactors at Belene.
Hristov reportedly said he wants Bulgaria “to remain a leader in the production and export of electricity in the region.”
Hristov said Bulgaria has “all the prerequisites for the development of nuclear energy with trained staff, traditions, infrastructure and licensed sites.”
In the meantime Bulgaria will continue to rely on coal fired power plants as the main source of electricity generation in the country and for export to nearby nations.
An energy strategy released by the ministry called for 7GW of solar and 2GW of wind by 2030 and 12GW of solar and 4GW of wind by 2050, plus 870MW of new hydropower projects by 2030 and 1270MW by 2050.
There will also be an expansion of hydrogen production, to reduce natural gas imports, and the introduction of 600MW of battery storage by 2030 and 1.5GW of seasonal storage systems by 2050, according to the BTA news agency. There will also be modernization of about 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) of the electricity transmission network.
Bulgaria’s two operating Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors at Kozloduy, units 5 and 6, generate about one-third of the country’s electricity. Life extension programs have enabled operation from 30 to 60 years.
Kozloduy 1-4 reactors were VVER-440 models which the European Commission classified as not being candidates for upgrades. Bulgaria agreed to close them down during their negotiations to join the European Union in 2007.
The troubled Belene project has had a series of on again/off again efforts. It was to have seen the construction of two Russian supplied 1000 MW VVER units. Preliminary site works began in 2008, and contracts for components including large forgings and I&C systems were signed with suppliers, but the project was stymied by financing problems and was suspended in 2012.
Westinghouse briefly considered taking over the project, but Rosatom balked at having an American firm be the EPC for Russian reactors. Bulgaria had to pay Rosatom an estimated $600 million for the failed effort.
In 2019, the then government advertised for a strategic investor to participate in the Belene project to build two large reactors, but said that neither funding guarantees nor long-term electricity sales contracts would be offered. Not surprisingly, no one showed up with an offer.
Last week Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted to ask ministers to negotiate with the US government for the new AP1000 unit at Kozloduy and urged action by March to speed up the process for approval and construction of the unit. It also called for a licensing and environmental impact assessment procedure for another reactor, which would be unit 8 at Kozloduy.
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EDF Proposes New 1200 MW EPRs for Kazakhstan
(NucNet) France’s state nuclear power company EDF said in a proposal that it is ready to supply Kazakhstan with a new 1200 MW design of its EPR PWR type nuclear reactors. The proposal comes as Kazakhstan is planning to make a decision on a vendor by the end of 2023.
Vakisasai Ramany, EDF’s senior vice-president for development of new nuclear projects and engineering, said he had met Kazakhstan’s energy minister Bolat Akchulakov and energy vice-minister Zhandos Nurmaganbetov to discuss “the perspectives of the cooperation in the civil nuclear domain between Kazakhstan and France, for the development of their nuclear power plant program.
“EDF is strongly committed to bringing its state-of-the-art EPR1200 technology, its competences, skills and dedication to support [project company] Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants for the construction and safe operation of its future nuclear power plants in the spirit of a long-term partnership.”
EDF’s Generation III+ EPR1200 technology is a smaller version of the large-scale EPR1650-MW nuclear plant. EDF is also proposing the EPR1200 for new build in other countries such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
Kazakhstan’s energy ministry said EDF is one of four potential suppliers of nuclear technology now being considered by Kazakhstan. Vendors include China National Nuclear Corporation, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Rosatom of Russia. Commissioning of a first plant is potentially earmarked for 2035.
Kazakhstan is a major producer of uranium for nuclear power plants. In June, the government said it was planning to build it first nuclear power station on the western shore of Lake Balkhash in the Almaty region in the southeast of the country.
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NASA, DARPA Will Test Nuclear Engine for Future Mars Missions
NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on 01/23/23 a collaboration to demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space, an enabling capability for NASA crewed missions to Mars.
Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Nuclear thermal propulsion technology could be used for future NASA crewed missions to Mars.
NASA and DARPA will partner on the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO, program. The non-reimbursable agreement designed to benefit both agencies, outlines roles, responsibilities, and processes aimed at speeding up development efforts.
“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.
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 has a long history of collaborating with DARPA on projects that enable our respective missions, such as in-space servicing,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. “Expanding our partnership to nuclear propulsion will help drive forward NASA’s goal to send humans to Mars.”
Under the agreement, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will lead technical development of the nuclear thermal engine to be integrated with DARPA’s experimental spacecraft. DARPA is acting as the contracting authority for the development of the entire stage and the engine, which includes the reactor.
DARPA will lead the overall program including rocket systems integration and procurement, approvals, scheduling, and security, cover safety and liability, and ensure overall assembly and integration of the engine with the spacecraft. Over the course of the development, NASA and DARPA will collaborate on assembly of the engine before the in-space demonstration as early as 2027.
“DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in advancing technologies for our respective goals, from the Saturn V rocket that took humans to the Moon for the first time to robotic servicing and refueling of satellites,” said Dr. Stefanie Tompkins, director, DARPA.
“The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security. The ability to accomplish leap-ahead advances in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for more efficiently and quickly transporting material to the Moon and eventually, people to Mars.”
The last nuclear thermal rocket engine tests conducted by the United States occurred more than 50 years ago under NASA’s Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application and Rover projects.
“With this collaboration, we will leverage our expertise gained from many previous space nuclear power and propulsion projects,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for STMD.
“Recent aerospace materials and engineering advancements are enabling a new era for space nuclear technology, and this flight demonstration will be a major achievement toward establishing a space transportation capability for an Earth-Moon economy.”
NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), and industry are also developing advanced space nuclear technologies for multiple initiatives to harness power for space exploration. Through NASA’s Fission Surface Power project, DOE awarded three commercial design efforts to develop nuclear power plant concepts that could be used on the surface of the Moon and, later, Mars.
NASA and DOE are working another commercial design effort to advance higher temperature fission fuels and reactor designs as part of a nuclear thermal propulsion engine. These design efforts are still under development to support a longer-range goal for increased engine performance and will not be used for the DRACO engine.
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The NRC has already granted exemptions for 10 CFR 2.109(b), so this should be the route that is taken. As long as that happens, then all will be fine. The NRC is afraid of precedents and the re-activation of a previously withdrawn application would have been just that.
Here is the link to the Federal Register for the 10 CFR 2.109(b) exemption given to Dresden 2 and 3.
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