DOD Seeks SMRs for Tactical Readiness at Military Bases

A Big Move Toward Small: Micro-reactors and the Pentagon

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The Problem: U.S. military bases in this country and on foreign soil face a unique challenge – the need for 100% uninterrupted access to a working electrical grid.  In order to insure tactical readiness of the base, military planners are looking at acquiring very small nuclear reactors to keep the lights on, planes flying, and troops on the move, etc.

DOD manages more than 500 fixed installations and is the single largest energy consumer in the U.S.  So, the issue of reliable power is a big one, and could be a big market for the right vendors.

What’s New? The Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is exploring the potential for the deployment of micro-reactors at its defense installations. These reactors could run for years, independent of the grid, to provide secure, reliable power and sustain defense functions, including during an extended blackout. The Nuclear Energy Institute has released a roadmap on what steps are needed for deployment.

Fast Facts:

  • The U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) have been interested in the use of small reactors for nearly a decade. Deployment of micro-reactors for DOD could happen in as soon as five to seven years, replace conventional diesel generators or coal boilers with a new source of electricity that would operate independently of the power grid, and run cleanly and quietly for years, with long intervals between re-fuelings.
  • These reactors are quite small with military installations likely exploring technology in the one to 10 megawatts-electric range. Many military bases will need multiple micro-reactors. They could desalinate water, generate hydrogen for fuel, and power computer installations. The main challenges are licensing, regulatory and business issues, not technology.
  • NEI’s Roadmap for Micro-Reactor Deployment lays out the necessary steps, describes the timeline, and offers recommendations for facilitating micro-reactor deployment for the military.
  • NEI anticipates that the reactors would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They would be powered by uranium of a type that the government already has in inventory, although the uranium would have to be processed into the proper fuel form. While the focus of the roadmap is for military use, such reactors would also be useful in small communities off the grid, and in remote mining operations.

NEI’s Marc Nichol, director of new reactor deployment: “Small reactors are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades. Energy is important to our national security; it must be reliable and resilient so that it’s there when our men and women in uniform need it. Micro-reactors can enhance our capabilities by providing that resilient, 24/7 energy.”

DoD’s Troy Warshel, director of operations at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operational Energy: “Ultimately our goal is resilience. And what does resilience mean for the Department of Defense? It means for our critical missions, when we flip the switch – there’s power. We see nuclear energy as a huge potential partner in achieving our resilience goals.”

General Atomics Sets Plans for
Portable 10 MW reactor for military installations

General Atomics is developing a nuclear reactor system designed to fit in a military shipping container for both truck and air deliveries.

The company said in a press release this week that its microreactor program builds on General Atomics’ 60 years of nuclear energy research-and-development experience and uses materials built to protect the system from potential threats.

According to General Atomics, its nuclear power supply technology includes autonomous features that the company has derived from its unmanned aircraft and military hardware offerings.

The system is designed to have a 10-year refueling cycle and produce up to 10 MW of electric power.

General Atomics offered information on the project as the Nuclear Energy Institute published a report that outlines the timeline, challenges and recommendations for the Defense Department to deploy a microreactor at a U.S. military installation.

Opening Opportunities for Development of
Advanced Reactors and SMRs in the U.S.

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SMR at at remote Arctic Site: Image Source: Third Way

A recent policy paper by several think tanks “How to Jump-Start a Micro Nuclear Reactor Industry in the US.” says that small and micro reactors could revitalize America’s nuclear sector—with some policy changes. The paper is from The Breakthrough Institute, the R Street Institute and Clearpath.  (Full Text PDF file)

The paper’s recommended policy actions include:

  • Create new pathways for licensing small reactors through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Congress.
  • Allow federal agencies to sign 40-year power-purchase agreements for small nuclear projects.
  • Have the DOE commission a fast test reactor that allows the advanced reactor development community to test fuel and materials.
  • Reform the Price-Anderson Act by shifting from a dollar-based cap on operator liability to an exposure based limit reflecting current scientific understanding of radiological risk.
  • In the longer term, develop a domestic source of high-assay low-enriched uranium, which is used in many advanced reactor designs.

It notes that several companies are currently working on micro nuclear reactor designs, such as Oklo, a startup in the Bay Area, and U-Battery, under development by uranium mining company Urenco.

The advanced nuclear industry is full of technical challenges. The nuclear reactor startup Transatomic Power shut down operations, after failing to find a viable path to develop its molten salt reactor design.  Se prior coverage on this blog, Transatomic Folds Its Tent ~ Its Leagcy May Live On

For an update on developers of advanced nuclear reactors, including SMRs, see the directory by Third Way published earlier this year.

OTHER NUCLEAR NEWS

India, Russia Sign Civil Nuclear Deal
for Six New Nuclear Reactors

India and Russia, following their 19th edition of the Joint Summit, inked an Action Plan for expanding civil nuclear partnership comprising second site for Russian nuclear reactors in India. The two countries plan to develop a project of six nuclear power units of Russian design at a new site in India.

The Action Plan for Prioritization and Implementation of Cooperation Areas in the Nuclear Field identified jointly by Russia and India was signed by Director General of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom Alexey Likhachev and the Secretary of Department of Atomic Energy and Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission Kamlesh Vyas.

According to the document, for the new nuclear project in India Russia will offer six PWR type VVER reactors at 1000 MW electricial and will increase the level of Indian industry’s involvement and localization.

One possible site for six 1000 MW reactors is in Andhra Pradesh. Previously, this site was considered for six Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

According to a report by World Nuclear News, two Russian-designed V-491 VVER units, of 1000 MWe, are under construction at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, and two V-412 VVER units are already in operation at the site with a third phase of two more reactors planned.

The deal comes with a sidebar agreement that Rosatom will supply the nuclear fuel for the reactors for their expected 60-year operating life. This arrangement reduces pressure on India which is still trying to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to be able to buy nuclear fuel for its planned fleet of PHWRs.  See prior coverage on this blog India Doubles Down on Domestic 700 MW PHWR

Western nuclear reactor vendors Areva/EDF and Westinghouse have made little progress inking similar deals  because Indian nuclear liability legislation gives reactor manufacturers no protection against claims for damages in case of accidents.

Reuters reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed to cooperate on India’s plan for a manned space mission.

NRC Grants Safety and Design Approvals
for South Korea’s APR1400 Nuclear Reactor

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued safety and design approvals for the Advanced Power Reactor 1400 (APR1400) which is a South Korean nuclear reactor design.

On September 28th the NRC issued a final safety evaluation report and a standard design approval (SDA) for the APR1400. The design is a joint effort of two South Korean state-owned companies Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP).

The NRC pointed out there are still regulatory steps to be completed by the firms. The approval, which indicates the NRC finds the design technically acceptable but does not fully certify the design, is valid for 15 years. Separately, the NRC is preparing a rulemaking to fully certify the design for U.S. use.

“Full certification, if granted by the Commission following the staff’s recommendation, is valid for 15 years and allows a utility to reference the design when applying for a Combined License to build and operate a nuclear power plant,” the NRC noted.

In its press statement the NRC said the SDA means that the NRC’s staff has completed a technical review of the APR1400 design, in accordance with standards for review, but it does not “constitute a commitment to issue a permit, design certification, or license in any way.”

The APR1400 is a two-loop, pressurized water reactor (PWR), which has as its legacy Combustion Engineering’s (now Westinghouse’s) System 80+ design developed for use in South Korea.

The advanced design incorporates a number of modifications and improvements. The updates are intended to address “enhanced safety and economic goals and to address the new licensing issues such as mitigation of severe accidents.”

KHNP said in comments to the news media that the APR1400 has been developed to meet 43 basic design requirements including a 60-year lifetime, and lower probabilities of core damage and accidental radiation release in the event of an incident.

The first of its kind APR1400 entered revenue service in 2018 at Shin Kori 3 inm South Korea. However, the plant had several significant schedule delays due in part to a major problem with counterfeit cables that had to be replaced.

The delay also impacted training of UAE reactor operators who will eventually run the four similar nuclear reactors being built in that country. The startup of the first unit has been delayed by nearly a year due to problems with “safety culture” according to the UAE nuclear safety regulator.

“The resulting projection for the start-up of Unit 1 operations reflects the time required for the plants nuclear operators to complete operational readiness activities and to obtain necessary regulatory approvals,” Nawah Energy Company told Reuters.

The plant is now slated to enter revenue service in late 2019 at the earliest.

Two more APR1400 units in South Korea at Shin Hanul (Units 1 and 2) have had their startup dates pushed back due to construction delays.

Plans for another two units are on hold due to the South Korean government’s fractured energy polices which call for a withdrawal from reliance on nuclear power. South Korea would have to start massive imports of natural gas, most likely from Russia, if shut down its reactors.

According to the World Nuclear Association, South Korea has 24 reactors which provide about one-third of South Korea’s electricity from 23 GWe of plant. Nuclear energy has been a strategic priority for South Korea, but the new president elected in 2017 is aiming to phase it out over some 45 years.

The South Korean companies submitted a design certification application for the APR1400 in 2014. Since then a lot has happened in the U.S. market which suggests South Korea, which took the hugely expensive process to completion, believes there will be a change here that will open up opportunities for it. What that might be isn’t clear.

Several nuclear utilities have “banked” COLs from the NRC, but have no plans to start construction. They include Dominion (ESBWR, N. Anna III), DTE (ESBWR Feri III) and until recently Duke Energy (twin AP1000s) W.S. Lee.  No other U.S. nuclear utilities have applications pending with the NRC or plans for them for full size nuclear reactors.

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Transatomic Folds Its Tent ~ Its Leagcy May Live On

  • transatomic logoOne of the first entrepreneurial startups in the complex field of designing new nuclear reactors, founded in 2011, has called it quits.
  • The firm faced twin challenges of a long development time and an uncertain degree of competitive technology advantage over other designs.
  • The decision by Transatomic to roll up the sidewalks was based on a conclusion by the firm’s lead developers, both holding Ph.Ds in the nuclear energy field from MIT, that they could not deliver a commercially successful design that runs on spent nuclear fuel nor one using a molten salt concept.

Leslie Dewan, one of Transatomic’s two founders, told the MIT Technology Review last week the longer timeline and reduced performance advantage made it harder to raise the necessary additional funding, which was around $15 million.

“We weren’t able to scale up the company rapidly enough to build a reactor in a reasonable time frame,” Dewan said.

Transatomic had raised more than $4 million from Founders Fund, Acadia Woods Partners, and others. Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel was an early investor and touted his funding commitment in an OP ED in the New York Times.

The firm was already on its second wind having determined in 2016 that its technology could not generate electricity 75 times more efficiently than conventional light-water reactors using the energy potential in spent nuclear fuel.

The forced restart, which is not an uncommon event among advanced technology firms, put them behind rivals like TerraPower and Terrestrial Energy. Both of these firms have committed to plans to eventually build and test demonstration reactors with their designs.

TerraPower has an agreement with Chinese state owned nuclear energy firms to build a prototype. Terrestrial Energy is scouting sites in the U.S. for a first of a kind unit one of them being  a location a the Idaho National Laboratory.

Design Issues Detailed

According to a technical profile of the design on the firm’s website, Transatomic’s patents deal with the use of zirconium hydride as a moderator, combined with its version of a molten salt-based reactor design, based on work done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Transatomic’s research was focused on a design that alters the amount of moderator, or material used to slow down neutrons to speeds capable of sustaining fission, as a function of time over the course of the reactor’s fuel cycle.

In an interview with the online news wire service Ars Technica, Dewan said that in 2016, the company was forced to reverse its earlier claims, after a review by one of its advisers at MIT found errors in its calculations.

Transatomic then changed its design approach to develop a reactor that “does not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel,” but rather which would “reduce nuclear waste production by significantly increasing fuel burnup.”

Dewan said the company’s investors supported the company’s post-2016 work on its molten salt and zirconium nitride design, because “for them, the main value proposition was the safety case of these molten salt reactors and their low cost compared to fossil fuels.”

Design work will be available on an open source basis

Dewan isn’t completely abandoning the firm’s vision of an advanced reactor. She said in press interviews that Transatomic will open-source all its intellectual property, making it available for other researchers to “continue the work that we’ve started and hopefully build on it.”

“We will therefore be open-sourcing our intellectual property, making it available for any researchers – private, public, or non-profit – who want to continue the work we’ve started.”

“We are currently in discussions with the DOE GAIN (Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear) initiative regarding collaborating with them to ensure that our work remains accessible to the public and valuable to the efforts of the advanced reactor community as a whole.”

Transatomic is also releasing its patents in the European Union, Russia and China for its particular version of liquid-fueled reactor designs.

Transatomic startup principles still valid – think tank

Josh Freed, vice president for the clean energy program at the DC based think tank Third Way, issued a statement saying Transatomic’s closure doesn’t reflect any broader challenges for advanced nuclear power in general. There are several dozen advanced nuclear startups in the U.S. according to an directory published by the group.

Dewan said in a statement posted on the firm’s website that some of the first principles of their effort are still valid.

“We know two things to be true:

  1. Climate change is real, and unless massive action to de-carbonize the grid is taken soon, it will threaten much of humanity’s way of life.
  2. Novel nuclear technologies present the best way to address the issue, by rapidly expanding carbon-free energy at scale and making fossil fuels a thing of the past.

Lessons Learned

Transatomic’s mistake is not that it sought to deceive its backers with false claims, but that it got ahead of its own headlights in terms of validating the technical results of its research.

Inexperience and overconfidence are common faults of many startups, and being called out for these missteps is not necessarily always fatal to the enterprise.

In 2016 Dewan acknowledged in an email to the MIT magazine it should have sought peer review or other forms of hard feedback earlier.

“In retrospect, that was a mistake of mine,” she said during the phone interview. “We should have open-published more of our information at a far earlier stage.”

NuScale Makes Pivotal Advancement
with Selection of Manufacturer

nuscale logoNuScale Power has selected Virginia-based BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) to start the engineering work to manufacture NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR).

The decision follows a rigorous 18-month selection process, with expressed interest from 83 companies based in 10 countries. (press statement)

The effort was undertaken to determine the best company to refine NuScale’s design for manufacturability, assembly, and transportability – the first phase in bringing NuScale’s pioneering design to life. NuScale’s technology is the world’s first SMR to undergo Design Certification review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

BWXT will immediately start work on this first manufacturing phase of NuScale’s SMR, which the firm expects will continue through June 2020. NuScale will contract for the remaining two phases, preparation for fabrication then fabrication, at a later date.

BWXT is a leading supplier of nuclear components and fuel to both the U.S. government and commercial nuclear power industry. It expects to use Pennsylvania-based Precision Custom Components as a component manufacturing contractor on this project.

NuScale is competing with other countries, including Russia and China, in the global commercialization of SMRs. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, every $1 billion of exports by U.S. companies represents at least 5,000 jobs. The sale of NuScale SMRs would have a significant impact to both the American economy and manufacturing jobs market.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is scheduled to approve NuScale’s Design Certification application in September 2020. NuScale’s first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, is on track to deploy the country’s first SMR plant in the mid-2020s.

Advanced Reactor Concepts
Announces Leadership of Its Canadian Subsidiary

Advanced Reactor Concepts has announced that Norman J.D. Sawyer will become the President of its Canadian subsidiary ARC Nuclear Canada, Inc.

“We are pleased to announce the addition of Norm to the ARC team and believe that his broad industry and Canadian nuclear experience will significantly advance our efforts in New Brunswick,” said Don Wolf, CEO and Chairman of ARC.

“As a native New Brunswicker, Norm will be invaluable in our efforts to complete the CNSC Vendor Design Review process, staff our Saint John office with local talent and identify areas for the creation of jobs within the Province which represent our highest priorities.”

Over the last 34 years, Norm’s distinguished career has included significant experience in both the commercial operation of nuclear facilities in Canada and the regulation of nuclear facilities. During these 34 years, Norm held a range of leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Vice President & Chief Nuclear Officer for Bruce Power.

ARC has agreed to collaborate with NB Power in exploring the potential future deployment of the ARC-100 at NB Power’s Point Lepreau nuclear plant site and thereafter at other sites in Canada and worldwide.

The ARC-100 is a 100 MWe sodium cooled, fast flux, pool type reactor with metallic fuel that builds upon the 30-year successful operation of the EBR-II reactor in Idaho.  See prior coverage on this blog.

The larger objective is the establishment of Canada’s New Brunswick Province as a center of excellence and the manufacturing hub for advanced SMR products based on the ARC-100 technology. The project will result in a nuclear supply chain created in the Province with well-paying jobs and substantial new economic opportunity.

Other Nuclear News

Owners Agree To Push Ahead
with Construction Of Vogtle 3 And 4

(NucNet: All four owners of the project to build the Vogtle-3 and -4 nuclear plants in the US state of Georgia have voted to continue construction of the two new Westinghouse AP1000 units.

The vote was triggered by a recent disclosure by Southern Company, the lead partner, that the capital and construction cost forecast for its share of the project had increased from $7.3bn to $8.4bn. The total projected project cost had increased by $2.2bn.

Those reports said the total cost had increased to around $27bn, around twice the original estimate. The project is also taking years longer than originally expected.

The Wall Street Journal said Southern Company had now come to a new deal with the other co-owners. Under the deal, Southern agreed to cover a growing percentage of the project’s construction costs if the price tag continued to climb. The Atlanta-based utility also agreed to purchase future tax credits from its co-owners at a discounted cost.

Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the project, while Oglethorpe owns 30% and MEAG, 22.7%. Dalton Utilities owns the remaining 1.6%, but it does not have a large enough stake to derail the project.

Southern Company said Vogtle-3 is expected to begin commercial operation in November 2021 and Vogtle-4 in November 2022.

The V C Summer project, which was building two similar units in South Carolina, has been cancelled due to cost over runs and schedule delays.

NuGen CEO Supports RAB Financing Model for Moorside

(NucNet) NuGen boss Tom Samson has vowed to “fight tooth and nail” to salvage the Moorside nuclear power station project and said he is in favor of using the regulated asset base (RAB) model to fund the “transformational” project.

Mr Samson, chief executive of the company set to develop the station, in Cumbria, northwest England, told delegates at the Cumbria Nuclear Conference in Carlisle that it was crunch time for a project.

In his first public address since NuGen made more than 70 staff redundant because of delays to a deal between current owners Toshiba and prospective buyers Kepco, Mr Samson warned that the threat of winding up the company was “very real”.

Mr Samson said: “The deal with Kepco may still come to fruition, but we cannot just wait for them to make a decision. It is essential that this project goes ahead and we therefore have to consider alternative ways forward.”

He expressed his support for using the RAB model to finance three AP1000 units at Moorside, although he said no decisions had been made on whether it would be used.

The RAB model is essentially a type of contract drawn up with the backing of government which calculates the costs and profits of a project before it is started, and allocates an investor’s profits from day one.

A government regulator sets a fixed number, the RAB, which attempts to account for all the future costs involved in the completion of a project. The regulator then also sets a fixed rate of return for the investors based on those costs.

Press reports in the UK at the weekend said Kepco is understood to have a deal for NuGen on the table but will not sign until it has undertaken a study in to the risks and profitability of applying RAB model to finance Moorside.

French Finance Minister says
he is against quick exit from nuclear

(Reuters) French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he is against a quick exit from nuclear and added he wants France to maintain a competitive and technologically advanced nuclear industry.

“I am against a quick exit from nuclear,” Le Maire told BFM TV.

He said he did not rule out that France would close other nuclear plants than the Fessenheim plant, and that he would meet with the prime minister in coming days to discuss the issue.

Asked whether France could build new nuclear reactors beyond the troubled and long-delayed EPR reactor that EDF is building in Flamanville, northern France, he said: “Let’s first see if Flamanville works, review the process and then decide.”

The minister said he will decide in coming weeks on a new long-term energy strategy, which will include reducing the share of nuclear to 50 percent, but so far no deadline has been set for that target.

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Perry in Tough Talks with KSA Over Terms for 123 Agreement

U.S. anchors on nonproliferation goals in talks
over exports of nuclear energy technologies to Saudi Arabia

atoms for peace stampGetting to “yes” appears to be still a long ways off  in the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) over the terms of a 123 agreement that would cover exports of nuclear reactor technologies, DOE Secretary Rick Perry said this week.

The Reuters wire service reported 9/26/18 that Perry has held talks several times with Saudi leaders this year, including with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The focus of the discussions has been both on the short term, an RFP by KSA for two full size nuclear reactor, e.g., 1000 MW using light water reactor technology, and long term, a fleet of up to 16 similar units, including the first two, at a cost of at least $80 billion.

KSA’s ambitions for both the short and long term plans were recently energized by the rising price of oil which this month inched up over the $80/bbl line. KSA has consistently assessed the financial feasibility of its nuclear energy plans based on its ability to fund them out of ongoing oil revenues rather than tapping its sovereign wealth fund.

KSA slammed on the brakes for its nuclear power ambitions in January 2015 when the price of oil dropped from $100/Bbl to $50/bbl. Whether the price of oil will sustain its current level, or go higher over the 25 years it would take to build all 16 reactors, is a big unknown. The fact that KSA is in talks now for a 123 agreement suggests they are willing to roll the dice on that point.

KSA is Pushing the Nonproliferation Envelope

Perry’s talks with KSA have hit rocks once again due to the Saudi position that it wants the right to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel to counter Iran’s nuclear program. The problem for Perry is that the “gold standard” for 123 Agreements, developed under the authority of the Atomic Energy Act, call for no such activities.

Indeed, the 123 Agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has these restrictions as one of its key elements. South Korea is building four 1400 MW PWR type nuclear reactors at a Persian Gulf coastal site. The first of the units is expected to enter revenue service in 2019. The design of the South Korean reactors contains U.S. technologies which meant that South Korea needed a “gold standard” 123 agreement between the U.S. and the UAE in order to close the $20 billion deal.

For the time being Perry, who is the public face of the U.S. negotiating team, is sticking to his guns over the nonproliferation measures that must be in the KSA 123 agreement. He’s got air cover for the position from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who told Congress last May that any nuclear technology agreement with KSA would be based on the same terms as are in the UAE document.

Whether this policy will remain in place is a question. In August former U.S. State Department officials Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky wrote in Politico Magazine that in other areas involving U.S. and KSA diplomatic relations, the Trump administration is giving away the store.

“But nothing in the 70 plus-year history of U.S.-Saudi ties comes close to the cosmic groveling that now defines President Donald Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and his slavish obeisance to its dangerous and irresponsible policies.”

Miller and Sokolsky don’t mention the nuclear technology export deal specifically in the article, but given all the other ways the White House is leaning over backwards to agree to KSA demands, there’s considerable risk that this tilt might affect the talks about nuclear energy exports.

Key to implementation of any 123 agreement between the U.S. and KSA  is the issue of inspections of nuclear facilities. This in this a key area  on which the current talks have centered, but it is important to note that the bed rock policies of the agreement are the real issue.

Perry’s other problem is that if KSA convinces the U.S. to relax its “gold standard” policy, the UAE could call for talks to modify its agreement as well further undermining U.S. nonproliferation goals for the Middle East adding to tensions there with Iran.

U.S. Firms Want KSA’s Nuclear Business

Meanwhile, last July KSA said it has short listed South Korea, the United States, France, China and Russia to bid for a nuclear power project in Saudi Arabia and that the winner would likely be selected in 2019. This statement about “short listing” is essentially meaningless since it comprises all of the bidders.

The U.S. nuclear industry hopes Saudi Arabia will agree to Perry’s terms so that it can export nuclear power technology. U.S. companies funded a trade delegation to KSA last April for this purpose.

Westinghouse, which recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, was purchased last April by the Brookfield, a Canadian private equity firm. Paradoxically, one of the firm’s key investors is the sovereign wealth firm of Qatar which is at loggerheads with KSA over multiple Middle East political issues. It’s not clear that either Westinghouse or KSA consider this to be an issue since the Qatar financial stake, as of last March, was about 7% of the total fund.

Westinghouse is unlikely to win the lion’s share of the business supplying nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia even if the Trump administration relaxes the terms of a 123 Agreement. The reasons are that South Korea has the pole position due to several factors including; success with building four 1400 MW reactors for the UAE at a fixed price, an experienced workforce with a management team that speaks Arabic, and the fact that the 1400 MW design has already been built and operated in South Korea.

Neither Perry nor the KSA diplomats involved in the negotiations have put a timeline on the talks. However, Perry said earlier this year that he’d like to get an agreement in place by the end of 2018.  KSA said it will make its choice for a vendor for its first two nuclear reactors in Spring 2019.

Saudi Arabia is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and has a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Mexico’s 123 Agreement is a Model

U.S. 123 agreements are routine with other countries. The U.S. has also recently updated its 123 agreement with Mexico which has plans to expand its nuclear power station at Laguna Verde.

Dan Lipman, a expert at NEI on international commercial nuclear cooperation, said in a statement, the new 123 agreement will be good for U.S. firms seeking to do business in Mexico.

“We applaud the Trump administration for submitting to Congress for review a 123 Agreement with Mexico, which facilitates trade in nuclear technology between our countries.:

“Mexico is one of the United States’ largest trading partners and a longtime and significant importer of American nuclear technology.”

Mexico ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1969 and the Additional Protocol in 2004. It is also party to the 1979 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, ratified in 1988.

Mexico is the depository of the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (the Tlatelolco Treaty) and has been party to the Treaty since 1967.

123 Agreements – One Size Does Not Fit All

But Mexico is not Saudi Arabia and it isn’t embroiled in multiple political and sectarian disputes, including open and covert warfare, with its neighbors. Nor is it contending for regional dominance with another nation that has ambitions for a nuclear weapons program.

The situation in the Middle East is a very different kettle of fish with much higher risks. The U.S. 123 Agreement with KSA, if the two parties come to terms, will have significant consequences for a lot more than the two parties involved in it.

On this blog – A Saudi Nuclear Reader

For more details on Saudi Arabia’s plans for nuclear energy see this blogs ”Saudi Nuclear Reader” which is seven articles covering its development from 2014 to summer 2018.

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New York Times Gets Half the Story on Japan’s MOX fuel Plan

It is the nature of the news media to look for shiny objects. This principle means any car wreck, road rage shooting, or semi-truck turnover on the freeway is a slam dunk for the first news item at 6 PM. The news media is not predisposed to look for solutions, and, indeed, has, to a degree, a legitimate claim to the point that this isn’t its job.

It’s when the news media highlights problem for which there are known solutions that it misses the opportunity to truly inform its readers. This is the case this week as the New York Times covers Japan’s efforts to deal with a growing inventory of plutonium embedded in its spent fuel inventory by recycling it into Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX).

mox fuel 2

The NYT story is accurate as these things go, but it is also one-sided in that it mostly addresses areas where Japan has fallen short, so far, in its MOX fuel strategy. The experts quoted are drawn from the field of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

The article would have been much more complete in its coverage if it had also talked with people who are expert in the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and manufacturing of MOX.

A total of 47 or so tonnes of plutonium have accumulated by Japan so far raising fears among other southeast Asia nations about what Japan might do with it. Most of it is embedded in spent nuclear fuel from light water reactors which makes it very expensive and dangerous to reprocess to extract the PU-239 for use in nuclear weapons.

Yet , one might think that the New York Times was right to cast this story as one with a heavy nonproliferation tilt. To this end the newspaper quotes several nonproliferation experts who offer various credible perspectives on the problem.

Note that of the total inventory, only 10 tonnes are actually in Japan. The rest is split between the U.K. and France. This means that a fast path to making bombs is out of the question and some fears about such a scenario, raised stridently by China, are flat out overblown.

Solutions Exist. Why Didn’t the Newspaper Report Them?

What’s missing from the story is that Japan has a number of solutions staring it in the face which so far it has failed to execute in a timely manner. Reader of this blog may recall my coverage of the issue earlier this year.

Japan’s problem with its recycle strategy to make mixed oxide fuel out of the plutonium in principle makes sense, but as a practical manner is confounded by a failure in its technical execution.

The Rokkasho plant is designed to extract 8 tonnes of plutonium a year from spent nuclear fuel and reprocess it into MOX fuel. A back of the envelope calculation indicates that amount could produce about 400 PWR type MOX fuel assemblies a year. Given the rate at which Japan’s restart of its reactor fleet is taking place, from a stocks and flows perspective, it may make a dent in the inventory, but it won’t catch up.

The problem, and it is the white elephant in the room, is that the plant has been under construction for over two decades. It initial cost estimate of about $7 billion has ballooned to $27 billion and the completion date is still two-to-three years in the future.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) says a minimum of 16-18 reactors, or more likely 30 reactors, must be brought back online in Japan to meet the recycling target. So far only nine units have been restarted and only four of them are licensed and capable of burning MOX fuel to reduce Japan’s plutonium inventory.

In the list that follows the reactors with an asterisk (*) can burn MOX. The nine units that have been restarted in Japan since the Fukushima accident: Ohi-3, Ohi-4, Genkai-3*, Genkai-4, Sendai-1, Sendai-2, Ikata-3*, Takahama-3* and Takahama-4*.

Japan’s Failure to Leverage Fast Reactors

Unlike Russia’s work with its “BN” series of fast reactors, Japan has not committed to a robust R&D program to design and build fast reactors that could burn MOX fuel. In November 2017 after years of technical difficulties, Japan’s government shut down the Monju fast reactor.

Its design was innovative which may have been part of the problem. According to the World Nuclear Association, it has three coolant loops, used 198 MOX fuel assemblies surrounded by 172 blanket assemblies, and operated at 714 MWt, 280 MWe gross and 246 MWe net.

Alternatives for Japan’s MOX strategy include signing over, for a fee, the plutonium inventory in the U.K. to that nation, which is already a nuclear power. Once the U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has title to the fuel, it has the opportunity to bring fast reactors whichh can burn spent fuel, like the GEH PRISM, into the picture.

A second alternative is to speed up the glacial pace of reactor restarts and in parallel modify the licenses for the restarts so the units can burn MOX fuel.  A PWR can use MOX in one-third of its core without much adaptation. The MOX fuel a higher energy value and has longer period between fuel outages.

A push for faster restarts would require political will and a commitgment by the central government to overcome the exploitation of Fukushima fears by ambitious provincial officials for political gain.  TEPCO, which owns and operates the largest nuclear power station at Kashiwazaki-kariwa (7 BWRs) has  work to do there in this regard. It would also lower Japan’s reliance on imports of coal and natural gas which has had a significant negative effect on the country’s GDP as well as efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dealing with MOX Waste Streams

Insofar as the waste streams from the MOX plant itself is concerned, the liquid waste from the plant can be turned into dry calcine and then stored in steel canisters for eventual disposal in a LLW facility. Yes, it will take time for the calcine to cool off, in terms of radioactive half lives, but with welded shut steel canisters there is no chance of release.

At the Idaho Cleanup Project, it is managing radioactive calcine, a granular solid similar in consistency to sand. Calcine was transferred to large stainless steel bins encased in six high-integrity concrete vaults called bin sets. Calcining achieved significant volume reduction from liquid to solid.

The cleanup contractor is now engaged in the characterization, repackaging and preparation of remote handled transuranic (RH-TRU) waste for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (wipp) in New Mexico. (See DOE Record of Decision for details)

Lastly, Japan has a contract with EDF/Orano which is could leverage to speed up reprocessing of its spent fuel into MOX to isolated the plutonium in a form of fuel that would make retrieval for use in weapons all the more difficult. La Hague has processed spent fuel for reactors in Europe and Japan. Since 1972, 44 commercial reactors worldwide have been loaded with MOX fuel.

  • Germany: 5,482 tons of used fuel
  • Japan: 2,944 tons
  • Switzerland: 771 tons
  • Belgium: 673 tons
  • Netherlands: 418 tons
  • Italy: 193 tons
  • And, the largest amount, 23,605 tons for French utility EDF

At La Hauge, only 4% of nuclear material from used fuel reprocessing is waste, plus the sheared metal pieces (shells and ends). The fission products are heated, then mixed with molten glass and cast in stainless steel containers, a safe and stable packaging for thousands of years. The waste metal pieces are compacted and placed in storage containers.

Why Didn’t the Newspaper Talk to Experts on MOX Fuel?

There are many experts in the production and use of MOX fuel globally. It’s a disappointment that the New York Times did not seek any of them out for their views on Japan’s challenges or to suggest ways to solve some of the problems the country faces in relying on MOX fuel as a solution.

The newspaper’s reporter and editors could have started by talking to the American Nuclear Society (ANS) which has a long standing policy position on the benefits of converting weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel.  Also, in the U.S. the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has gone on record with the Department of Energy and Congress in favor of converting weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel.

It is a no brainer for the newspaper to have called either or both groups to ask for experts to comment on ways Japan could succeed with its MOX fuel plan. And that is what would have been the other half of the story. Maybe the newspaper in a follow-up article will pursue this line of inquiry?

Note to readers: I did try to reach the NYT reporter in Tokyo who wrote the story.  The newspaper did not reply to my emails.

Other Nuclear News

US Congress Approves $1.3 Billion For Nuclear Energy R&D

(NucNet) The US Congress has approved an energy and water spending bill for fiscal 2019 that includes $1.33bn in funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear energy research, development and deployment programs, an increase of $121m over fiscal 2018.

The bill includes $323.5m in funding for the DOE’s reactor concepts research and development program, an increase of $86.5m over 2018. This includes important programs such as advanced reactors and light-water reactor sustainability.

The bill increases funding for the versatile test reactor program, which would create a sodium-cooled fast reactor to test advanced technology reactor components and materials, from $35m to $65m.

In a new development, the bill provides $20 million in funds for the high-assay low-enriched uranium, or Haleu, program, which could be used to fuel advanced reactors.

See prior coverage on this blog Navy Nuclear Fuel Recycling Program Approved By Senate,  The demonstration project would down blend high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to a level where it could be used in advanced nuclear reactors.

These reactors require a fuel known as high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU), enriched to less than 20% of fissile content (U235). The HALEU could be used in advanced reactors which are also small modular reactors (SMRs) that are not based on light water (LWR) technologies.

First Experiment Carried Out At INL’s Transient Reactor Test Facility

(NucNet) The first experiment has been carried out at the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory transient reactor test facility.

INL said the resumption of experiments at the facility, known as Treat, is an important step towards restoring US nuclear energy transient testing capability. It said the experiment marked the return of a capability that is critical to the US’s role in the development of nuclear fuels, for both the existing fleet and a new generation of advanced reactors under design.

Exposing fuels to extreme conditions in Treat helps the nuclear industry develop more resilient and longer lasting fuels.

The experiment, carried out on 18 September 2018, is part of a series that will culminate in testing of new fuels being developed by the US Department of Energy for use in light-water reactors.

The decision to restore transient testing at INL was part of efforts to revitalize US nuclear energy capacity,” said Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the DOE.

Toshiba In Talks With Brookfield About NuGen

(NucNet) Toshiba is in talks with asset management company Brookfield about taking its stake in the Moorside nuclear project in Cumbria, northwest England.

The reports said the Japanese multinational is talking to Canadian-based Brookfield about a sale of its UK nuclear unit NuGen, which was set up to deliver the planned Moorside station.

The talks have begun since Toshiba took away the status of South Korean utility Kepco as the preferred bidder status for NuGen in July due to the length of time that it was taking to agree a deal.

Toshiba put NuGen up for sale as part of its wider restructuring in the wake of financial problems triggered by losses in its US nuclear business, Westinghouse, which was providing the three AP1000 units for Moorside.

Brookfield bought Westinghouse earlier this year after Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy following delays and rising costs at the Vogtle and Summer AP1000 nuclear projects.

Romanian Nuclear Industry Could Take Up To 40% Of Cernavoda-3 and -4

(NucNet) The potential share of contracts that Romania’s nuclear industry could take in the construction and commissioning of the planed Cernavoda-3 and -4 nuclear projects is estimated to be between 25% and 40%, a study by the Romanian Nuclear Forum (Romatom) found.

  • The study said local industry could receive between €1bn and €1.6bn of the value of engineering, purchasing, construction and commissioning contracts.
  • The study estimated that local industry could provide about 19,000 jobs related to the completion of Unit 3 and 4 at Cernavoda.

In November 2015, Nuclearelectrica and China General Nuclear Power Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding on the development, construction, operation and eventual decommissioning of Cernavoda-3 and -4, which will both be of the Canadian Candu-6 design. Negotiations have been continuing since then.

Romania already has two Candu-6 units in commercial operation, Cernavoda-1 and Cernavoda-2.

Malaysia Will Not Turn To Nuclear Power, Says Prime Minister

(NucNet) Malaysia is not making plans to develop a nuclear power program because of what it sees as the risks associated with it, the Asian country’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad told a conference this week.

Mr Mahatrir said previous governments were keen to pursue nuclear power because the cost of energy generated by it is lower than fossil fuel generation.  But he said Malaysia still lacks the knowledge needed for nuclear power and the disposal of nuclear waste.

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New Fire Nuclear Movie Set for General Release in October

TheNewFire_VODArt_03WebAfter playing at a series of prestigious film festivals, the movie New Fire about the development of innovative nuclear reactor technologies by multiple independent teams is slated for general release online next month.  ( Trailer )

Online venues will include iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Prime. Details to be released Oct 18th.

Nuclear power has been vilified in popular culture and among much of the environmental community. Yet the next-generation reactors currently in development may actually be key to avoiding global catastrophe.

The young entrepreneurs heading this energy revolution realize they’re up against more than the climate clock. They need to find funding and customers for their technologies.

In THE NEW FIRE, Emmy-winning director David Schumacher takes us inside two nuclear startup companies: Transatomic and Oklo.

For Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie of Transatomic their goal is to design an advanced reactor that is safer, cleaner and cheaper than today’s reactors.  They explain in the film they are developing an advanced molten salt reactor that generates clean, safe, proliferation-resistant, low-cost nuclear power.  On their website the developers explain the science behind the design.

transatomic developers

Mark Massie (left)  and Leslie Dewan (right) founded Transatomic while students at MITE

In Silicon Valley, Caroline Cochran and Jacob DeWitte, founders of Oklo, are developing a micro reactor.  They refer to it as a micro-reactor that is designed to bring distributed, clean, affordable, and reliable nuclear power in small packages to the market. These reactors fit into a containerized system that can power a wide variety of markets both domestically and internationally, which do not have access to affordable and reliable power, and in some cases, do not have access to power at all.

oklo developers

Oklo founders Caroline Cochran (left) and Jacob DeWitte (right) are developing a micro reactor for off-grid and other special applications where, today, diesel is the only option.E

These teams are being supported by nuclear advocates all over the globe. THE NEW FIRE movie follows activist Eric Meyer, Generation Atomic, at the COP 21 Paris Climate Conference as he uses his own special talents to educate Parisians.

Also in Paris, renowned climate scientist James Hansen makes the case for nuclear with a team of his colleagues. Hansen travels on to China, where he’s organized an unprecedented and controversial meeting between U.S. and Chinese climate and nuclear experts.

Back in the US, Bill Gates is putting his entrepreneurial and philanthropic muscle behind TerraPower, a company he helped create to bring affordable clean energy to developing countries. A key aspect of the development effort is its partnership with China.

Filmed across four continents over the course of twenty two months, Schumacher’s film focuses on how the generation facing the most severe impact of climate change is fighting back with ingenuity and hope. THE NEW FIRE tells a positive story about a planet in crisis and the young developers of new nuclear reactor designs who are trying to save it.

Why the Film was Made

David-Schumacher-headshot1-213x300

David Schumacher

In a statement about why he made the movie, Director David Schumacher said the next-generation reactors currently in development may actually be key to avoiding global catastrophe.

“The young entrepreneurs heading this energy revolution realize they’re up against more than the climate clock – they need to convince all of us that the new nuclear is safe and achievable.”

He emphasizes that this isn’t a film about politics This is a film about a path forward, to show audiences that there is a technological solution [to climate change] – one that may surprise them.

“I understand that nuclear has had its problems over the years and that there are risks. But I’m more afraid of the risks of unchecked climate change than I am of a hypothetical nuclear accident.”

“The United States was on a path to developing ground breaking nuclear technology in the ‘60s but then it stalled. Why haven’t we gone back to these promising discoveries to address the most pressing problem that humanity has ever faced?”

Schumacher says he is really impressed by idealistic young people who are determined to prove that nuclear energy’s best days lie ahead.

“This was the beginning of my obsession with the subject of nuclear power. But it wasn’t until I met the people at Transatomic Power and Oklo that I knew I had to make this movie. These brilliant young people – some of the most gifted engineers of their generation, who in all likelihood could have cashed in for a fortune by doing something else – believe deeply that nuclear power could play a key role in saving the planet.”

He added, “They are the new face of nuclear power, and to me, the newest and most unlikely climate heroes.”

He closed by saying he wants audiences to come away from THE NEW FIRE with a new perspective about a technology they may have dismissed until now. And new sense of mission to try and save the planet before it’s too late.

A Who’s Who List for the film

Of course lots of other people are also engaged in this type of work. Here’s a list of people, some of whom you may already know about through their work, who appear in the film.

Tom Blees, Ken Caldeira, Caroline Cochran, Armond Cohen, Rob Corbin, Leslie Dewan, Jacob DeWitte, Kerry Emanuel, Ousmane Faye, Ashley Finan, Bill Gates, James Hansen, Janne Korhonen, Jessica Lovering, Bill Magwood, Mark Massie, Lee McIntire, Eric Meyer, Vijay Modi, Scott Nolan, Ted Nordhaus, Rauli Partanen, Mark Peters, Per Peterson, Peter Planchon, Jeffrey Sachs, John Sackett, Gordon Shaw, Michael Short, Nick Touran, Tom Wigley.

Check the New Fire website for details on release dates and how to see the firm including a schedule for screenings at various locations around the country

Other Nuclear News

Congress Passes Legislation to Accelerate
Advanced Nuclear Reactor Innovation

The US House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at accelerating the development of advanced nuclear reactors. It follows passage of similar legislation in the Senate.

Bipartisan legislation led by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) cleared the House of Representatives and will now go to President Trump for his signature.

The measure, S.97, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), would authorize partnerships between private-sector innovators in nuclear energy and government researchers to create the next generation of clean, advanced nuclear power.  The measure led by Crapo, Risch and Whitehouse has been the result of years of bipartisan collaboration and work to develop technologies that allow for the greater, more efficient use of nuclear energy.

The legislation will establish a grant program between industry and the federal government to share the cost of licensing of advanced nuclear technology and accelerate the deployment of small modular reactors and advanced reactor designs.

Another provision requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to award grants to cover a portion of the fees the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) charges for pre-application and application review activities for advanced nuclear reactor designs.

Actual funding will be set by the usual congressional appropriations process. DOE’s budget request for FY 2019 has already been submitted to OMB. Real money to get these programs moving might not show up until 2020.

The legislation also directs DOE’s Office of Science to establish a high-performance computer modeling and simulation program to advance the development of new reactor technologies. The Office of Science would partner with national laboratories, universities and the private sector to create software and other tools to accelerate research into advanced fission reactors, fusion systems and reactors used for space exploration.

This is a boundary spanning provision which would link the science labs like Argonne and Oak Ridge with the Idaho Lab. Oak Ridge has enormous super computing capabilities that could be put to good use.

Other key elements of the bill include;

  • Direct the U.S. government (DOD facilities) to enter into long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with nuclear reactors.
  • Promote the development of advanced reactors and fuel by strategically aligning U.S. government and industry interests, which is intended to enable U.S. developers to compete with their state-sponsored competitors from Russia and China.
  • Develop a source of high-assay low-enriched uranium, which is the intended fuel for many advanced reactor designs, from U.S. government stockpiles. Again, both China and Russia have these capabilities domestically, but the U.S. does not.
  • To help accelerate the development of advanced technology reactors, the legislation directs DOE to develop a reactor-based fast neutron source to test advanced reactor fuels and materials. With the only commercially-available fast neutron testing facility currently located in Russia, a U.S.-based facility would help restore this important capability.

The bill also provides for the sharing of technical information and expertise between DOE and the NRC, which could accelerate NRC licensing of advanced reactor designs. Developers of advanced reactors have gone overseas (Terrapower) to avoid getting bogged down in NRC’s learning curve and having to pay for it on top of everything else.

The measure would direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to to give priority to partnerships with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts.  NEICA authorizes the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center that brings together the technical expertise of the National Labs and DOE to enable the construction of experimental reactors.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would partner with DOE in this effort, which would enable the NRC to contribute its expertise on safety issues while also learning about the new technologies developed through the Center.  This measure strengthens the ability of national laboratories to partner with private industry to prove the principles behind their ideas.

Under the law, the US Department of Energy will award grants to cover a portion of the fees the Nuclear Regulatory Commission charges for pre-application and application review activities for advanced nuclear reactor designs. Relieving entrepreneurial startups of the expense of paying for the NRC’s reviews would go a long way towards getting the designs through the licensing process.

EDF Must Prove Nuclear Reactors Viable, French minister says

(Reuters) France’s state-controlled EDF power utility needs to show a new generation nuclear reactors work well and can be built in a cost effective manner, France’s new environment minister Francois de Rugy said in pointed remarks last week.  It’s unclear what his position is on nuclear energy coming from the Green Party but it may be borderline anti-nuclear based on his comments.

He does have a point about costs. Construction of the first EPR plant in France in Flamanville has run billions of euros over budget and is years behind schedule. It follows in the footsteps of a similar project, a first-of-a-kind EPR, in Finland, which has also seen significant schedule delays and cost increases. The EPR is a very large reactor which when operating will be able to produce 1650 MW of electrical power.

The French government is expected to outline in late October a plan to cut the share of nuclear energy in its electricity production to 50 percent from the current 75 percent, the highest level in the world.

Last month the previous environment minister Nicolas Hulot, who was widely viewed as an impediment to the nuclear industry’s drive to remain as France’s main power supplier, resigned abruptly citing a lack of progress in dealing with climate change.

De Rugy, a former Green lawmaker, told Le Monde in the interview his “gut feeling” was that nuclear power was not an energy source for the future, but added that there should be no “war of religions” on the issue. He added that economic issues would be his primary focus.

“The important thing is to know the economic data for both nuclear and renewable energies,” he said.

Nota bene: It will be interesting to see what he says once he realizes the stability of the grid, and the future of intermittent power sources like wind and solar, depends on the current fleet of reactors.

UK Announces Feasibility Studies
For Small Modular Reactor Development

(NucNet) The UK government has announced that eight organizations have been awarded contracts to produce feasibility studies as part of the first phase of an advanced small modular reactor feasibility and development project for which £44m of funding is available.

The eight organizations are Advanced Reactor Concepts, DBD Ltd, Blykalla Reaktorer Stockholm AB (LeadCold), Moltex Energy Ltd, Tokamak Energy Ltd, U-Battery Developments Ltd, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and Westinghouse Electric Company UK.

The government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is to invest the £44m in advanced reactor units that can generate low-cost electricity, increase flexibility in delivering electricity to the grid and offer increased functionality such as providing process heat for domestic or industrial purposes and the production of hydrogen.

The project has two phases. Phase 1 offers funding of up to £4m per organization for a series of feasibility studies for reactor designs.

Phase 2 would see successful companies from Phase 1 offered a share of up to £40 million for further development.

Proponents of LWR type designs for SMRs criticized the plan as ignoring their closer time to market and the need for a funding a transition from stick built units to factory production of SMRs.

NRC Continues Reviews of Plans
for Interim Storage Site for Spent Nuclear Fuel

(wire services) A decision regarding Holtec’s plan for an interim storage site for spent nuclear fuel in Hobbs, NM, could occur by July 2020, according news media interviews given by Neil Sheehan, public information officer for the NRC’s Region 1 Office. Holtec, which is based in Camden, NJ, is seeking to build and operate Phase 1 of the interim repository on approximately 1,040-acres of land, according to its application.

Holtec is currently requesting authorization to possess and store 500 canisters of spent nuclear fuel containing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which includes spent uranium-based fuel from commercial nuclear reactors, as well as a small quantity of spent mixed-oxide fuel.

If the NRC issues the requested license, Holtec expects to subsequently ask for additional amendments to the initial license to expand the storage capacity of the facility, according to Sheehan.

Under its proposal, the company proposes expanding the facility in 19 subsequent phases, each for an additional 500 canisters, to be completed over the course of 20 years, Sheehan said.

“Ultimately, Holtec anticipates that approximately 10,000 canisters would be stored at the facility upon completion of 20 phases,” he said, noting that each phase would require NRC review and approval.

  • Waste Control Specialists restarts NRC Review

With regard to the Andrews, TX facility, proposed by Waste Control Specialists, the NRC has resumed reviewing the application after it received a request to do so from the firm which is a joint venture between Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and Orano CIS LLC. The application review was temporarily suspended in April 2017 while the firm sought additional funding.

In April 2016, the NRC received a letter from WCS proposing to build a consolidated interim storage facility on approximately 14,900 acres on a site in western Andrews County, TX. The company operates facilities on the site that process and store low-level waste and mixed water. The facility also disposes of both hazardous waste and toxic waste, according to the federal registry notice published by the NRC.

Nuclear Industry Faces Wake-up Call, says IAEA’s Chudakov

(WNN) The future of nuclear energy depends on the industry’s readiness to address the seven factors influencing its prospects, the deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told delegates at the World Nuclear Association Symposium 2018 held in London last week. (Full text)

Mikhail Chudakov, who is also head of the Vienna-based organization’s nuclear energy department, said the industry needs to change public acceptance of nuclear power to public demand for this safe, reliable, sustainable and low-carbon source of electricity.

In his presentation titled Nuclear Energy: Where are we headed? Chudakov summarized the need for action.

“We know the challenges: World energy consumption is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of about 1%, but electricity consumption will grow at a higher rate of about 2.5% per year up to 2030 and around 2% thereafter,” he said. “With virtually no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, nuclear power can have an important role to play in achieving [the United Nation’s] Sustainable Development Goals, meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement.”

But limiting temperature increases to the 2 Degree Scenario is not easy, he said, because today 70% of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. But by 2050, around 80% of electricity will need to be low carbon, he added. This scenario already includes “significant scaling” of all clean, low-carbon technologies.

“If nuclear power deployment doesn’t grow in line with this scenario, the other technologies will not make up the gap. And we will not meet our climate targets that are critical to life on this planet,” he said.

Chudakov outlined the seven influences he sees on the future of nuclear power: safety; funding and financing; electricity markets and nuclear policies; innovation (advanced reactors and fuel cycles); waste management; capacity building; and public acceptance.

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Project to Demonstrate Hydrogen Production Using IMSR

Terrestrial Energy USA is partnering with utility Southern Company and several US Department of Energy national laboratories to develop innovative methods of the producing hydrogen using its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).

The two-year research and development project will examine the efficiency, design and economics of using the IMSR to produce hydrogen ijn commercial quantities using the hybrid sulfur process.

terrestrial_energy_system_layout_0

Conceptual Diagram of a Molten Salt Reactor

Terrestrial is interested in investigating the feasibility and cost effectiveness of this method of generating hydrogen from water which may be more efficient than high-temperature steam electrolysis. The project aims to demonstrate the commercial and industrial-scale viability of pairing the hybrid sulfur process with an ISMR plant for large-scale production of hydrogen which will have zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Terrestrial said the project will build on two decades of research at Savannah River National Laboratory, which will lead the technology development along with Sandia National Laboratories and Idaho National Laboratory.

“By combining forces with an energy leader such as Southern Company, we can bring this revolutionary technology to industrial markets,” said Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy USA.

“Using an IMSR power plant to produce hydrogen more efficiently and economically is just one of many industrial applications of IMSR power plants beyond electricity generation.”

He added, “Removing carbon from the production of hydrogen helps bring deep decarbonisation into reach. It points the way to the production of carbon-neutral transport fuels and zero-emissions fertilizers.”

pathways to uses of IMSR

According to Terrestrial, besides current uses of hydrogen in ammonia production, petroleum refining, chemicals production and other industrial applications, hydrogen is expected to grow significantly as a storable energy carrier.

Future applications include all forms of transportation, thermal energy and energy storage. For instance, US firms like BNSF have been testing the use of hydrogen powered fuel cells to power train locomotives.

BNSF fuel cell powered locomotive

BNSF Fuel; Cell Powered Locomotive

Noah Meeks, research engineer and project manager at Southern Company, said: “This is a potentially high-impact project that couples the benefits of molten salt reactors with the development of an advanced water-splitting process for hydrogen generation.”

In June 2017, Terrestrial began a feasibility study for the siting of the first commercial IMSR at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Chalk River site. In March this year, Terrestrial and US utility Energy Northwest agreed a memorandum of understanding on the terms of the possible siting, construction and operation of an IMSR at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory in southeastern Idaho.

Molten salt reactors use fuel dissolved in a molten fluoride or chloride salt which functions as both the reactor’s fuel and its coolant. This means that such a reactor could not suffer from a loss of coolant leading to a meltdown. Terrestrial’s IMSR integrates the primary reactor components, including primary heat exchangers, to a secondary clean salt circuit, in a sealed and replaceable core vessel. It is designed as a modular reactor for factory fabrication, and could be used for electricity production and industrial process heat generation. Terrestrial aims to commercialise the modular reactor design – which can produce 400 MWt (190 MWe) of energy – in the 2020s.

Other Nuclear Energy News

Legislation To Help US Regain Lead In Nuclear Technology

(NucNet) A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation designed to help the US regain its lead in nuclear energy technology in the face of increasing global competition, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute said.

The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act includes a comprehensive proposal to fund research, development and accelerated deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies.

Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, said the bill will help accelerate energy innovation and support startup companies in the US that are investing billions of dollars into these next generation reactor designs.

Among other objectives, the legislation would create a pilot program to enter into long-term power purchase agreements between the federal government and a utility to buy electricity produced by early deployment of nuclear technologies.

“The [energy] secretary shall give special consideration to power purchase agreements for first-of-a-kind or early deployment nuclear technologies that can provide reliable and resilient power to high-value assets for national security purposes,” the bill says.

NEI president and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick praised the legislation, saying that a comprehensive plan to boost the country’s technological leadership in nuclear is exactly what is needed to help the US compete in today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace.

The bill is the latest in a series of important initiatives addressing near-term and future prospects for nuclear, the NEI said. Numerous states in the last couple of years have acted to preserve at-risk nuclear plants. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PJM and ISO-New England are re-examining how they compensate and set prices for different generating technologies in light of recent premature nuclear plant retirements.

Report – Nuclear Industry Must Defend Against Cyberattacks

(NucNet) The nuclear industry must defend itself against the growing risk of cyberattack by investing in the continuous improvement of cybersecurity measures at all nuclear facilities and building “mutual assistance mechanisms and shared resources” for responding to cyberattacks, a report by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative says.

The NTI’s Nuclear Security Index report for 2018 also says the industry needs to improve the quality and quantity of cyber-nuclear experts.

The report says cyberattacks could lead to the theft of nuclear materials or an act of sabotage, potentially resulting in catastrophic public health and economic consequences.

“Government and facilities’ responses to the risk of cyberattacks too often are inadequate,” the report says.

It calls for effective cybersecurity measures – from incorporating cyber threats into threat assessments to mandating that nuclear facility licensees have cyber-incident response plans – must be incorporated into government regulations and facility operations.

But it says the challenge is not just for governments and regulators. Leaders, technical specialists, and operators at nuclear facilities must develop and implement plans that keep pace with the threat.

“Governments should require – and facility operators should implement – information and operational technology systems that are resilient in the face of the cyber threat,” the report says.

The reports warns that the cyber threat continues to evolve, outpacing defenses and regulations in many countries.

“Dedicated efforts are needed to embed cybersecurity best practices into the culture of nuclear facilities,” the report says.

Efforts to Use MOX Fuel at New Reactor Delayed 2 Years

NIKKEI – A nuclear power plant in northern Japan designed to use recycled fuel has been pushed back by two years and will not start operation until at least 2026, marking a major setback for the country’s commitment to drawing down its plutonium stockpile.

The announcement by Electric Power Development constitutes the third construction delay for the Oma plant. It comes amid heightened international scrutiny of Japan’s plutonium holdings, a product of the resource-poor country’s effort to create a self-sustaining energy supply.

The utility, also known as J-Power, cited a time-consuming screening process based on safety standards revised after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. J-Power had hoped to resume work late this year.

Plant construction began in 2008, but was paused after the Fukushima meltdowns. The work is less than 40% complete.

France To Announce Nucler Energy Mix Targets In October

(NucNet) France will announce target dates for adjustments to the national energy mix in late October, the newly appointed environment minister said today.

Francois de Rugy assumed the ministerial role on Tuesday after the departure of Nicolas Hulot, who quit in part over what he saw as the government’s slow progress in moving away from its dependence on nuclear power.

Mr De Rugy gave no signal of what changes to the mix he would want to see, saying only that the end of next month was the deadline for unveiling a multi-year energy production program. A first draft of that program was originally expected during the summer.

France derives about 75% – the highest percentage in the world – of its electricity from nuclear energy, with 58 commercial reactors operated by state-controlled EDF.

In 2015, the government of former president François Hollande established an energy transition law which set a target of reducing the nuclear share to 50% by 2025, a policy supported during his election campaign by president Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Hulot said in November 2017 this would not be realistic and suggested the deadline to be pushed back to 2035.

Poland Plans Nuclear Reactors to Address Climate Change

(Reuters) Poland will not meet European Union carbon emissions targets unless it builds a nuclear power station, Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski said last week.

Poland produces most of its electricity from coal and has to look at cleaner technologies to comply with EU requirements on emissions reduction requirements.

Warsaw has planned to build its first nuclear power station for years but the project has faced a number of delays. The energy minister is a strong advocate of the nuclear, but faces difficulties in attracting the whole government’s approval. The big problem is money.

“The decision is that we are getting prepared until the moment when the financing is put together. This is a big problem,” Tchorzewski said in a public television interview.

Moorside Nuclear Project Faces New Challenges

(Times UK) Plans for a new nuclear power station in Cumbria are set to move closer to collapse next week, with the company developing the Moorside project expected to confirm that it is laying off the majority of its staff.

Nugen, owned by Toshiba, the troubled Japanese conglomerate, has been consulting throughout August on job cuts among its 100 employees after failing to secure a buyer. It is understood that it is preparing to sign off on cuts on Monday and to brief staff on Tuesday, with the most likely option resulting in the loss of at least 50 jobs.

If no buyer for Nugen is found before the end this year then the venture is likely to be abandoned altogether.

Toshiba has been involved in a three way dialog with the UK government and KEPCO which wants to buy the project from Toshiba. Sticking points have been the overall cost of the project and the level of government support, in the form of equity funding, for the project.

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MIT: Major New Report on the Future of Nuclear Energy

The findings are that new policy models and cost-cutting technologies would help nuclear play vital role in climate solutions. Progress in reducing carbon emissions requires a broad range of actions to effectively leverage nuclear energy.

  • MIT LogoAchieving deep reductions in carbon emissions reductions that are necessary to slow or reverse the impacts of climate change requires investing in nuclear energy as a key strategy.
  • The authors of a new MIT study say that unless nuclear energy is fully incorporated into the global mix of low-carbon energy technologies, the challenge of climate change will be much more difficult and costly to solve.
  • Key issues of cost and policy need to be addressed by the industry, its supply chain, and regulators, among others, must be addressed for nuclear energy to take its place as a major low-carbon energy source.

In the The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World, released by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) on September 3, the authors analyze the reasons for the current global stall of nuclear energy capacity — which currently accounts for only 5 percent of global primary energy production — and discuss measures that could be taken to arrest and reverse that trend.

The study group, led by MIT researchers in collaboration with colleagues from Idaho National Laboratory and University of Madison-Wisconsin, is presenting its findings and recommendations at events in London, Paris, and Brussels this week, followed by events on September 25 in Washington, D.C., and on October 9 in Tokyo.

MIT graduate and undergraduate students and postdocs, as well as faculty from Harvard University and members of various think tanks also contributed to the study as members of the research team.

Nuclear Energy “Essential” for Decarbonization

Key take-away findings . . .

“Our analysis demonstrates that realizing nuclear energy’s potential is essential to achieving a deeply decarbonized energy future in many regions of the world,” says study co-chair Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor and Associate Department Head of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department at MIT.

“Incorporating new policy and business models, as well as innovations in construction that may make deployment of cost-effective nuclear power plants more affordable, could enable nuclear energy to help meet the growing global demand for energy generation while decreasing emissions to address climate change.”

The study team says that the electricity sector in particular is a prime candidate for deep decarbonization. Global electricity consumption is on track to grow 45 percent by 2040, and the team’s analysis shows that the exclusion of nuclear from low-carbon scenarios could cause the average cost of electricity to escalate dramatically.

Guidance for Policy Makers and Industry Leaders

“Understanding the opportunities and challenges facing the nuclear energy industry requires a comprehensive analysis of technical, commercial, and policy dimensions,” says Robert Armstrong, director of MITEI and the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering.

“Over the past two years, this team has examined each issue, and the resulting report contains guidance policymakers and industry leaders may find valuable as they evaluate options for the future.”

Improving Nuclear Plant Construction

The report discusses recommendations for nuclear plant construction, current and future reactor technologies, business models and policies, and reactor safety regulation and licensing.

The researchers find that changes in reactor construction are needed to usher in an era of safer, more cost-effective reactors, including proven construction management practices that can keep nuclear projects on time and on budget.

“A shift towards serial manufacturing of standardized plants, including more aggressive use of fabrication in factories and shipyards, can be a viable cost-reduction strategy in countries where the productivity of the traditional construction sector is low,” says MIT visiting research scientist David Petti, study executive director and Laboratory Fellow at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Safety Features Come First

“Future projects should also incorporate reactor designs with inherent and passive safety features.”

These safety features could include core materials with high chemical and physical stability and engineered safety systems that require limited or no emergency AC power and minimal external intervention. Features like these can reduce the probability of severe accidents occurring and mitigate offsite consequences in the event of an incident. Such designs can also ease the licensing of new plants and accelerate their global deployment.

Government Must Provide Policy Leadership & Funding

“The role of government will be critical if we are to take advantage of the economic opportunity and low-carbon potential that nuclear has to offer,” says John Parsons, study co-chair and senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

“If this future is to be realized, government officials must create new decarbonization policies that put all low-carbon energy technologies (i.e. renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture) on an equal footing, while also exploring options that spur private investment in nuclear advancement.”

The study lays out detailed options for government support of nuclear. For example, the authors recommend that policymakers should avoid premature closures of existing plants, which undermine efforts to reduce emissions and increase the cost of achieving emission reduction targets.

One way to avoid these closures is the implementation of zero-emissions credits — payments made to electricity producers where electricity is generated without greenhouse gas emissions — which the researchers note are currently in place in New York, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Technology Innovation Can Be Promoted with Incentives

Another suggestion from the study is that the government support development and demonstration of new nuclear technologies through the use of four “levers”

  • (i) funding to share regulatory licensing costs,
  • (ii) funding to share research and development costs,
  • (iii) funding for the achievement of specific technical milestones, and
  • (iv) funding for production credits to reward successful demonstration of new designs.

International Alignment of Nuclear Regulatory Paradigms Will Help

The study includes an examination of the current nuclear regulatory climate, both in the United States and internationally. While the authors note that significant social, political, and cultural differences may exist among many of the countries in the nuclear energy community, they say that the fundamental basis for assessing the safety of nuclear reactor programs is fairly uniform, and should be reflected in a series of basic aligned regulatory principles.

They recommend regulatory requirements for advanced reactors be coordinated and aligned internationally to enable international deployment of commercial reactor designs, and to standardize and ensure a high level of safety worldwide.

History of Prior Studies

The study concludes with an emphasis on the urgent need for both cost-cutting advancements and forward-thinking policymaking to make the future of nuclear energy a reality.

The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World is the eighth in the Future of… series of studies that are intended to serve as guides to researchers, policymakers, and industry.

Each report explores the role of technologies that might contribute at scale in meeting rapidly growing global energy demand in a carbon-constrained world. Nuclear power was the subject of the first of these interdisciplinary studies, with the 2003 Future of Nuclear Power report (an update was published in 2009).

The series has also included a study on the future of the nuclear fuel cycle. Other reports in the series have focused on carbon dioxide sequestration, natural gas, the electric grid, and solar power. These comprehensive reports are written by multidisciplinary teams of researchers. The research is informed by a distinguished external advisory committee.

For more information visit the online version of The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World.

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