Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR to Get Joint Review by CNSC and NRC

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have selected Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) for the first joint technical review of an advanced, non-light water nuclear reactor technology.

The selection of Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR® for joint technical review follows the August 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) between the CNSC and the NRC that further expands the agencies’ cooperation on activities associated with advanced reactor and SMR technologies. The MOC’s collaborative technical reviews are intended to increase regulatory effectiveness as well as reaffirm the agencies’ commitment to safety and security.

TEI-ISMR-HowItWorks-Diagram

IMSR Conceptual Image

Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR® is an advanced reactor employing Generation IV molten salt technology with a power output of 195 MWe. It is currently the subject of regulatory engagement in both Canada and the United States. 

IMSR® submissions to the CNSC for Phase 2 of the Vendor Design Review (VDR) process commenced in December 2018; the IMSR® is the only advanced reactor in Phase 2 of that process. Since February, the IMSR® has been the subject of NRC pre-licensing activities supported by grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The CEO of Terrestrial Energy, Simon Irish, said: “We look forward to participating in joint CNSC and NRC reviews of IMSR® advanced reactor technology and to support the goals set by the agencies in the August Memorandum of Cooperation.” 

The CNSC-NRC Memorandum of Cooperation is intended to expand the cooperation provisions of the 2017 MOU between the two agencies to include activities associated with advanced reactor and SMR technologies, and to further strengthen the agencies’ commitment to share best practices and experience through joint reviews of advanced reactor and SMR technology designs. (CNSC statement) (NRC statement)

About Terrestrial Energy

Terrestrial Energy is a developer of Generation IV advanced nuclear power plants that use its proprietary Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) technology. IMSR® power plants will provide zero-carbon, reliable, dispatchable, cost-competitive electric power and high-grade industrial heat for use in many industrial applications, such as chemical synthesis and desalination, and in so doing extend the application of nuclear energy far beyond electric power markets. 

They have the potential to make important contributions to industrial competitiveness, energy security, and economic growth. Their deployment will support rapid global decarbonization of the primary energy system by displacing fossil fuel combustion across a broad spectrum.  

The IMSR integrates the primary reactor components, including primary heat exchangers to secondary clean salt circuit, in a sealed and replaceable core vessel that has a projected life of seven years.  It will operate at 600-700°C, which can support many industrial process heat applications. The moderator is graphite.  

The fuel-salt is a eutectic fluoride with low-enriched uranium fuel (UF4) at atmospheric pressure. Emergency cooling and residual heat removal are passive. Each plant would have space for two reactors, allowing 7-year changeover, with the used unit removed for off-site reprocessing when it has cooled and fission products have decayed. Compared with other MSR designs, the company deliberately avoids using thorium-based fuels or any form of breeding, due to “their additional technical and regulatory complexities.”

Terrestrial Energy is engaged with regulators and industrial partners to complete IMSR® engineering and to commission first IMSR® power plants in the late 2020s.

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Posted in Nuclear

Poland Plans 300 MW SMR with GE-Hitachi 

Michał Sołowow, billionaire owner of chemical company Synthos SA, is planning to build a 300 MW small modular reactor (SMR) in Poland in the next decade in cooperation with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH).

GEH said in a press statement: “Synthos is interested in obtaining affordable, on-demand, carbon-free electricity from a dependable, dedicated source.” The statement was made as the two firms signed a letter of intent to build the BWRX-300 small modular reactor

GEH said in its press statement, “Through our design-to-cost approach, we are designing the BWRX-300 to be cost competitive with gas, renewables and other forms of power generation.”

GEH-SMR

Synthos is a manufacturer of synthetic rubber and one of the biggest producers of chemical raw materials in Poland.

The BWRX-300 is the latest project launched by GEH, a joint venture of the US GE and Japanese Hitachi.

GE-Hitachi Kicks Off BWRX-300 SMR for Estonia

US-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Estonia’s Fermi Energia have signed an agreement to collaborate on the potential deployment of GEH’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) in the Baltic country. [press statement]

GEH said in a statement that under the agreement, the two companies will examine the economic feasibility of building a BWRX-300 in Estonia. The agreement covers a review of site requirements and an assessment of local nuclear regulatory requirements.

Kalev Kallemets, chief executive officer of Fermi Energia, is quoted as saying that Estonia needs to consider new generation SMR technology to maintain energy independence and achieve climate neutrality.

“Boiling water reactors have been proven in the Nordics to be safe, economic and reliable providers of carbon-free energy for decades and the design of the BWRX-300 makes it a competitive technology.”

The BWRX-300 is a 300-MW SMR derived from GEH’s 1,520 MW Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) design.

According to GEH, the BWRX-300 leverages the design and licensing basis of the ESBWR, which received design certification in the US in 2014. Essentially, it is an SMR that is a BWR.

The BWRX-300, a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems, leverages the design and licensing basis of the U.S. NRC-certified ESBWR. Through design simplification, GEH claims the BWRX-300 will require less capital cost per MW when compared to other water-cooled SMRs or existing large nuclear reactor designs.

GEH said Fermi Energia plans to make public the results of its feasibility study on the suitability of SMRs for Estonia in January 2020.

In an earlier action GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy  initiated a Vendor Design Review of its BWRX-300 small modular reactor in May 2019 with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

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Posted in Nuclear

A Look Ahead for Nuclear Energy in 2020

nuclear-fission.jpgWith a growing realization that nuclear energy is necessary to achieve decarbonization in the electric generation utility industry, and for major process heat applications, 2020 looks like a year where action based on this concept will see more significant developments for nuclear energy worldwide.

In an effort to lay out a roadmap of what to look for in the coming year, this blog engages in its annual exercise to identify pointers to the future.

A caution for readers is that this post is not an effort to predict the future, but rather a look at places and processes where events might occur that will add to the global level of useful investment in nuclear energy technologies.

To help readers follow the bouncing ball, so to speak, the pointers are organized by geography.  While it isn’t possible to provide a comprehensive view of everything, the main objective of the blog post is that it offers signposts for the road ahead.

Western Europe

The U.K. is facing a major challenge to replace it aging fleet of first generation nuclear power plants many of which are scheduled for shutdown in 2023.  In response, the Hinkley Point C project is on track to complete two massive EDF/Areva EPRs for connection to the grid by 2025, and once in revenue service will provide up to 7% of the total electricity demand for the U.K. Two similar units are planned for the Sizewell site.

The U.K. is working on developing a new method of financing full size nuclear reactors calls the “regulated asset model.”  The purpose of the model, which has been applied successfully on non-nuclear U.K. large infrastructure projects, offers the promise of reducing financial risk in building new nuclear power plants.

To read how it would work check out this article posted at World Nuclear News written by Ed Kee and colleagues.  If the RAB model is implemented in the U.K., it could be adapted for use by other market economies. The RAB model might be instrumental in reviving the prospects for the Moorside, Wylfa, Newydd, and Oldbury NPPs all of which are stalled for lack of financing.

The U.K.is also a hotbed of development of small modular reactors with multiple vendors seeking to establish a foothold there.

France like the U.K. has an aging fleet of nuclear power plants but it has more time, at least a decade or more, to work on replacements. Despite the fact that the country currently gets over 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, the government has plans to reduce its role to 50% banking on a promise of solar and wind technologies making up the difference.

The state owned utility EDF is deeply invested in completing first of a kind 1600 MW EPRs, in France, and in Finland, to prove the basic value of the design. While EDF acknowledges that it has inherited these projects, and their schedule delays and cost overruns, after absorbing the former nuclear power division of Areva, it also has plans to build six new EPRs in France. EDF has recently released plans that focus on completing these six new units on time and within budget.

Eastern Europe

The Czech Republic, Romania, and Poland have all announced plans to build new nuclear power plants. Their plans got a recent boost as the European Parliament adopted a resolution that all technologies, including nuclear, are needed to combat climate change, which it has called an emergency.

After sticking its head in the sand for nearly a decade, the Czech Republic has finally come to grips with the reality that the government must provide rate guarantees to bring investors to the table.  Proposals are still bouncing around as to which of the two nuclear sites in the country will get the first new units via a tender from CEZ the state-owned nuclear utility.

Romania appears to be moving ahead with plans to finally complete Cernavoda Units 3 & 4 having in Spring 2019 signed off on an agreement with China General Nuclear to complete the two PHWR type reactors.

In November 2019 Poland announced progress in its latest effort to establish a basis for financing new nuclear power plants to replace its heavy reliance on coal.

According to World Nuclear News, the government plans to set up a special-purpose company in which it will own a 51% stake, with the remaining 49% to be held by one or more foreign partners. State-owned power company PGE could be a shareholder in that special-purpose company.

WNN notes that Poland’s first nuclear power plant will be in operation by 2033, according to a draft energy policy document released for public consultation last November by the Ministry of Energy. The document lists plans for six reactors providing 6-9 GWe of nuclear capacity in operation by 2043, accounting for about 10% of Poland’s electricity generation. U.S. firms are said to be intensely interested in bidding on these projects.

Russia – Readers interested in the status of nuclear energy in Russia are referred to the World Nuclear Association profile of activity there. It was updated in December 2019 so it is as current as these things get.  Also, as you might imagine, it is a long read so set aside some time to dig in.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia’s plans for two full size nuclear power plants remain on the table though doubts about a 123 Agreement with the U.S. are growing due to claims by Saudi Arabia for the right to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Four other countries have expressed interest in the project which was downsized from an ambitious plan for 16 reactors. A tender for the two reactors is expected in 2020.

Jordan has multiple memorandums of agreement with developers of small modular reactors. Which ever one of them comes forward first with financial backing and a buildable design is likely to win the business. Key challenges are that the desert kingdom has no coastal sites selected for the nuclear plants and little water to spare for cooling at an inland location tentatively selected by the country’s atomic energy agency.

In Turkey Russia is building the first of four planned 1200 MW VVER reactors at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast. However, Rosatam has not been able to book investors for the 50% cost of the plant it isn’t paying for. The primary reason Turkish investors have not signed up is that the Russians have pegged the cost of power from the plants at about $0.12/Kw and electricity from gas plants in Turkey is sold for much less.

Meanwhile, Japan manufacturing giant Mitsubishi walked away from the project to invest in and build four 1100 MW PWR type units at Sinop on Turkey’s Black Sea coast primarily due to the projected costs for the first of a kind units.

Back in 2014 State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) of China and Westinghouse signed an agreement with Turkey to build four 1400 MW units at Igneada, a site on the Black Sea north of Istanbul. Since then, other than confirming the location, there hasn’t been anything reported from Turkey’s energy ministry about the project.

Egypt booked a massive project in 2015 with Roastom to build four 1200 MW units at El Dabaa with almost all of the financing coming from Russia. Plans for a second nuclear power station with four reactors near Port Said have also been announced, but a tender for them has not been released.

All of Egypt’s nuclear power facilities are expected to provide electricity for industrial and domestic use and to power water desalinization plants.

The United Arab Emirates is on schedule for startup of the first of four 1400 MW PWR type reactors at its Persian Gulf site. All of the reactors are being built by South Korea.

Asia

China is far and away the most active nation on the planet for building new nuclear power plants. That trend that is likely to continue though booking export deals still runs far behind the pace set by Russia. Readers interested in the details of China’s nuclear energy program are directed to the WNA profile of China. The impetus for nuclear power in China is increasingly due to air pollution from coal-fired plants.

According to the WNA profile, mainland China has about 45 nuclear power reactors in operation, 12 under construction, and more about to start construction. Almost all of the new start are at coastal sites due to limitations on getting large components transported inland.

After building and commissioning four Westinghouse AP1000s and two Areva EPRs, China is now investing heavily in a domestic design of a 1000 MW PWR the Hualong One which is also being offered for export. China continues to buy nuclear reactors from Russia and this month inked a deal for two advanced heavy water design reactors from Canada’s SNC Lavalin.

China is making significant investments in nuclear energy R&D especially for molten salt, high temperature gas, and even thorium fueled reactors. By comparison, while China is investing billions in new nuclear technologies, so far the U.S. has spent only millions and has a long way to go to catch up.

India has kept western nuclear reactor vendors at arms length while accepting new construction of 1000 MW VVERs units at Kudankulam from Rosatom. In 2019 India committed to a 700 MW PHWR type design and announced plans to build 10 of them with seven more on the drawing boards. The CANDU type designs are feasible for India to build with its domestic supply chain since the units don’t require the large forgings needed for reactor pressure vessels in PWRs.

South Korea faces an uncertain future for its home grown nuclear fleet due to a government policy announced in 2017 of shutting all of its reactors by 2045. The policy has undercut the credibility of South Korea’s export plans as well.

Strong support for the manufacturing side of the nuclear supply chain, and employment at the country’s 24 reactors may eventually force a change to that policy.  In 2019 South Korea completed the U.S. NRC safety design review of its 1400 MW PWR gaining international credibility for exports of it as a result.

Japan’s slow roll of restarting its nuclear reactors continues to force the country to import coal and natural gas to keep the lights on. The cost of these imports is a strain on the nation’s economy.

According to the World Nuclear Association until 2011, Japan was generating some 30% of electricity from its reactors and this was expected to increase to at least 40% by 2017. The plan is now for at least 20% by 2030, from a depleted fleet. Currently 37 reactors are operable. The first two restarted in August and October 2015, with a further seven having restarted since then.

Another 17 reactors are currently in the process of restart approval. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency has leaned hard on Japan’s nuclear utilities over anti-terrorism requirements and measures to mitigate the effects of volcanic eruptions.

Challenges to restarts also come from provincial politicians who have found success in getting elected by bashing the nuclear energy industry as a convenient distraction from other issues including the nation’s stagnant economy.  As expected the closure of the reactors, and the long, uncertain process to reopen them, has played havoc with local economies that depended on the payroll from plant employment and the economic multiplier effect of plant purchases of parts and supplies.

Japan’s exports of nuclear reactors have dried up with both Hitachi and Mitsubishi withdrawing from planned deals due to higher than expected costs and uncertainties over customer financing. Japan does not have any significant technology developed, beyond R&D lab scale projects, for either small modular reactors nor high temperature gas reactors. For instance, Hiatchi pulled out of the UK’s Moorside project, twin 1350 MW ABWRs, due to rising costs and dithering by the government about how to pay for them.

North America

Canada has become a key center of work on small modular reactors. With a population one-tenth the size of the U.S., it sees the future of decarbonization in a range of less costly SMR designs including PWRs, molten salt, and high temperature gas reactors.  The Canadian National Laboratory (CNL) has been the primary driver of support for innovation.

Several Canadian SMR developers have made significant progress achieving measurable progress through a multi-phase qualification process to be selected to get further support from CNL.

An agreement between the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will provide for joint, concurrent reviews of SMRs and two firms, Terrestrial Energy and NuScale, have announced plans to use the process.

Mexico has flirted off and on with plans for expanding its Laguna Verde nuclear power station which is composed of two 682 MWe BWRs. The latest plan is for two new 1400 MW units, based on a design to be determined, to be constructed there and two more at a location to be named on the Pacific coast.  No details have been released on when a tender for building he reactors at either site have been released by the government. Historically, the low price of natural gas in Mexico has been a deal breaker for new nuclear power plants.

In United States the completion of the two Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia may be the last full size new build to be undertaken for quite some time.  The financial and management failure of the V C Summer project in South Carolina, combined with flat demand for electricity, has caused a number of utilities with approved COLs from the NRC to put their plans on hold or cancel them.

Meanwhile, work on small modular reactors, led by Oregon-based NuScale, is moving towards completion in 2020 of the NRC’s safety design review of its 50 MW unit. NuScale’s customer UAMPS wants to build the first of six or even 12 units at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Separately, TVA recently was granted an early site permit for an SMR by the NRC, but has no immediate plans to build one at the Clinch River site in Tennessee.

While TVA was mulling things over in Tennessee, back in Idaho Oklo Inc., a startup, said that the firm has received a Site Use Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build its Aurora plant at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The site use permit makes a site available to Oklo to build its Aurora plant, which utilizes a compact fast reactor to generate about 1.5 MW of electric power. This site is anticipated to be the location of the first-of-a-kind deployment of the Aurora plant.

U.S. reactor vendors including Westinghouse, GE Hitachi, Holtec, and others, are developing a variety of designs including Molten Salt, high temperature gas, and conventional LWRs.  None are as far along as NuScale. All of the firms have plans for exports to global markets.

This year Congress passed a number of important pieces of legislation related to nuclear energy none more important to financing these exports than the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

For 2020 Congress approved a 12.5% increase in funding for DOE’s nuclear energy programs with major elements including $230M for the advanced reactor demonstration program which includes the Versatile Test Reactor.

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Posted in Nuclear | 7 Comments

NeutronBytes Podcast at Energy Central

podcast imageEnergy Central has kicked off their new podcast series. I have the privilege of being the first one guest on the show, coming out of the starting blocks, to do one with them on all things nuclear energy.

It’s about 20 min long. Give a listen and let me know what you think. (SoundCloud here, lots of other links are listed below)

Energy Central (EC) is thrilled to announce that they’re finally getting into the podcast arena with its inaugural podcast series Energy Central Insights™ Podcast

ec logo

For any of you who have spent time around the Energy Central platform, you’re likely already familiar with my work in that community.  Diving into the first episode, EC welcomes your blogger/publisher and EC community member  EC profile .

In this podcast I share insights on nuclear power and the wider energy sector through this blog NeutronBytes, and related Twitter feed @djysrv.

scoville scale

The inside joke is that the Union Pacific railhead that comes up to the Idaho lab from Blackfoot is called the “Scoville” spur.

While any number of my posts could be worth discussing, Energy Central pulled me into this episode thanks to my annual posting of “Dan’s Idaho Nuclear Chili Recipe.”

Who could have known after all these blog posts over 12 years about nuclear energy, that it would be foodies that would tag the blog for its value to the world of Internet publishing.

Born on the Idaho Arco desert, the Idaho nuclear chili recipe has been posted annually at Thanksgiving  for the past 12 years with this tag line.

By Sunday night you will be stuffed, fed up, literally, and figuratively, with turkey. Instead of food fit for pilgrims, try food invented to be eaten in the wide open west — chili.

Cook this dish on Saturday. Eat it on Sunday over a hot potato with shredded cheddar cheese as a garnish. Take it to work for lunch on Monday. 

Listen at any of the links below hear the full story, which is all about nuclear energy and a lot less about chili, and hear a perspective on the role nuclear plays today in different areas across the globe and how that role will change moving forward.

Where to Listen to the Podcast

All new episodes of the Energy Central Insights™ Podcast will be posted to the relevant Energy Central community group, but you can also subscribe to the podcast at all the major podcast outlets, including:

About Energy Central’s Podcast

With this first podcast series, EC is hoping to take some of the best and most engaging content already submitted to the Energy Central community.

The goal is to bring it to life with lively conversations that allow its modertors to dig in deeper and really get to the heart of the issues that matter to utilities, energy debates, and the topics that will shape the sector moving forward.

The Energy Central Insights™ Podcast is hosted by Jason PriceCommunity Ambassador of Energy Central. Jason is a recent NYSERDA scholar and NYU Clean Tech diploma recipient, having worked extensively in a multi-owner, utility-scale microgrid business model.

Jason is joined in the podcast booth by the producer of the podcast, Matt Chester, who is also the Community Manager of Energy Central and energy analyst/independent consultant in energy policy, markets, and technology.

About Your Blogger / Publisher

Why do I write about nuclear energy?  What some of you may not know is that my career spans a course of 40 years, with stops at EPA, the Idaho National Laboratory, and NASA, among others.

I’ve also been a consulting project manager for social media.  For example, I helped launch the ANS Nuclear Cafe at the American Nuclear Society and moderated a webinar with the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulaory Commission.

As I enter the 13th year of blogging, I think in the current era nuclear energy assumes even greater importance as a means to reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale.  I intend to keep writing.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

TerraPower CEO Interview: How the Firm has Transformed Itself into a Nuclear Science Innovation Hub

In just a few years TerraPower has transformed itself from developing a single advanced reactor design to become a dynamic hub of innovation in multiple areas of nuclear science. It’s part of a drive to be a thought leader for the industry and to demonstrate that the technologies it is working on will have a commercial future.

chris-levesque

Chris Levesque, CEO TerraPower

CEO Chris Levesque told NeutronBytes in a telephone interview on 12/4/19 that when the company started to develop a clean energy source 12 years ago its goal was to bring electrical power to the world.

Since then in addition to continuing to work on the Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR), the firm also has a more recent and robust effort, in cooperation with multiple U.S. partners, to develop a molten chloride salt reactor (MCFR).

More recently it has added to its portfolio projects to manufacture medical isotopes, develop process heat applications to make carbon fiber, and deploy modeling software for use in designing advanced nuclear reactors.

Two main focus areas for TerraPower center on decarbonization of the electrical generation indusry and on methods to generate and use process heat. TerraPower plans to produce commercial results in both areas.

“We are working on a concept of an energy architecture for the U.S. which which includes both focus areas. TerraPower wants to be a thought leader working with U.S. national labs,” Levesque said.

Levesque harnesses a powerful metaphor to explain the transformational approach developed by the firm.

He said that nuclear reactors can be the successors to our current industrial fire breathing systems. Levesque said that we need to use nuclear heat to replace the energy we get from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, which is used in the processes that make steel and concrete.

“We need to reframe our view of what we do with reactors from being merely nuclear steam supply systems to becoming nuclear heat supply systems.”

Process Heat Is a Product

High on the list of things TerraPower is now doing to bring that concept to life is that it is developing methods of using process heat to produce high tech carbon materials from ordinary coal. (Press Release)

Carbon fiber produced by this method have unique properties making the material ideal for applications ranging from aerospace to automobiles to sporting goods. Carbon fiber parts are lighter and stronger than their metal counterparts. For instance, carbon fiber is used in aircraft components where its superior strength to weight ratio far exceeds that of metals like steel and aluminum used to fabricate similar parts.

In related work testing is taking place in the TerraPower lab working on alloys and materials that can withstand the intense heat and radiation that occur inside an advanced nuclear reactor.

The challenges are daunting. The temperature inside a light water reactor reach about 300C, but in the TWR the heat will go up to 500C, and in the MCFR could be as high as 700C.

Spinoffs from the R&D work in this area include building materials and manufacturing methods. TerraPower is also exploring using molten salt as a thermal storage mechanism.

The Future of the Traveling Wave Reactor

In 2018 the U.S. government shut down TerraPower’s working relationships in China driven by a mix of concerns over trade politics and nonproliferation issues.

Levesque says that some people had thought that the federal government’s decision to end TerraPower’s working relationships in China would also be the end of the TWR project. Not so says Levesque despite the considerable loss of project momentum caused by the government’s action.

“In China we had a partnership with our counterparts developing the technology and with the regulatory agencies. We were on a schedule that would produce a demonstration reactor within an eight year timeframe.”

The firm is bouncing back Levesaque says.

“We are now in intensive discussions to re-create the demonstration effort for the TWR here in the U.S.”

Although Levesque did not provide a timeframe or roadmap with specific milestones to achieve that outcome, he does have a vision of where the company wants to go.

“Our first unit will be a 300 MWe demonstration unit built with the support of public/private partnerships. Our intent is to demonstrate that the technology works. To that end we are working on securing a commitment to build it at a DOE national laboratory so that it is licensed by the agency as a research reactor.”

Leveaque makes the point that a GEN IV safety analysis is fundamentally different than one for light water reactors. His expectation is that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will learn from the experience of observing how DOE licenses the demonstration projects and use that knowledge to speed up the safety design reviews of all types of GEN IV reactor designs.

Legislation is Helpful, but More Effort Is Needed

Another confidence builder for the firm is that Levesque likes what he sees coming out of Congress.

“Our big message to Congress is that we like the legislation which has been enacted so far and the new initiatives that are coming forward. We urge Congress to continue to support advanced nuclear energy technology development with a strong sense of urgency.”

Global Competition Shows U.S. has Work to Do

But there are also challenges ahead coming from nations that have invested more robustly than the U.S. in advanced nuclear energy technologies. Where as Congress has appropriated funding for projects in the range of millions of dollars, other nations have pushed forward in key nuclear technology areas with funding levels in the billions.

For instance, in 2018, China announced a two decade long program to spend the equivalent of $3 billion on various designs of molten salt reactors. Just this week it was announced that Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) has awarded a RUB26.3 billion (USD$412 million) contract to Titan-2 for the construction and installation works for the BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled fast neutron reactor facility at its site in Seversk, Russia.

Levesque doesn’t mince words when he looks at the global competition.

“If we don’t do it, others will. Nations like the Canada, the U.K., and Japan are already making these kinds of investments. Russian and China are way ahead and we have a lot of work to do to catch up.”

Congress and Federal Government Need to Provide Policy and Financial Support

In response to the fact that TerraPower lost its partnership with China, in part due to nonproliferation concerns by the U.S. government, Levesque says that TWR is “proliferation resistant” and he hopes for a “rational policy” from the government so that the firm can seek export sales.

Also, he notes that even as the firm develops a U.S. based demonstration project, it is looking globally because the project to build the first of a kind unit, and commercial versions to follow, will have an international supply chain. He adds that Congress and the federal government need to open domestic and international commercialization pathways for developers of advanced nuclear reactor designs.

MCFR Project is Moving Along Quickly

With regard to the MCFR, Levesque says that the firm knows that molten salt reactors can be built. Oak Ridge did so in the 50s and 60s. TerraPower is working with a number of partners on it. They include the Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute and Vanderbilt University. The project is funded by a 2016 $60M grant from DOE.

One of the firm’s focus areas right now is to build test loops for the MCFR. The Integrated Effects Test Loop for Molten Salt will have a 2nd quarter 2020 start with completion by the end that year.

A big surprise is that Levesque says the firm’s engineers believe that the MCFR could be designed and built as a micro-reactor and are looking at finding a way to build one quite fast.

The size of micro reactors is generally regarded as being between 2-10 MWe. However, Levesque says it is too soon to say what the power level would be for a micro size MCFR.

He says the firm wants to reduce the time to build a commercial unit from breaking ground to entering revenue service in as little as two-to-three years. Micro-reactors may be appropriate for places that don’t have nuclear energy today like nations in Africa.

New Medical isotopes Contain Potential for Cancer Cures

The firm has branched out to work on production of medical isotopes. TerraPower is working on methods to extract Actinium 225 from surplus U233 stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The isotope may be effectively used in targeted alpha therapy for cancer patients.

Levesque says, “the development of new nuclear medicine isotopes shows the value of nuclear science and demonstrates U.S. leadership in this crucial area.”

“If we lose this leadership role, because of under investment in nuclear science, it will degrade the work force and diminish the robustness of the supply chain. The point is that nuclear science has many collateral benefits. It’s not just about power reactors to make electricity. There is a huge interest by pharmaceutical firms in cost effective production of ACT225.”

To support this work TerraPower recently opened up lab space to work on the requirements associated with the FDA’s standards for manufacturing medical isotopes.

Advanced Modeling Software to Aid in Reactor Design

Composite modeling is being used to evolve and optimize reactor designs. The firm is “really proud of our open source software and the fact that we are able to share it with nuclear engineering schools,” Levesque said.

He adds that the firm has a lot of outreach to these university programs to encourage the next generation of nuclear engineers and scientists. And there is something new going on with this group.

“This generation wants more than just a paycheck from a career. They want to have their work mean something, and with the climate change crisis upon us, they are bent on saving the world.”

Levesque hopes some of them will come to work at TerraPower to help the firm do just that.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Battelle Energy Alliance / INL Seeks Partners for Versatile Test Reactor

inl-logo.jpgBattelle Energy Alliance, LLC announced this week a a request for expressions of interest in a partnership opportunity for the development and deployment at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) of a new U.S. Department of Energy facility for fast neutron testing: the Versatile Test Reactor.

The announcement is the first step in the government procurement process to identify potential partners, assess the capabilities of offers, and select one or more partners to participate in the program.

DOE’s Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy, Rita Baranwal, made the announcement on 11/18/19 at an American Nuclear Society winter meeting  in Washington, D.C.

“This morning, I have the pleasure to announce that Battelle Energy Alliance, the day-to-day contractor for Idaho National Laboratory, is seeking industry partnerships to develop and deploy the Versatile Test Reactor,” Baranwal said.  [See links below]

BEA is seeking an Expression of Interest (EOI) from industry stakeholders interested in forming a partnership for a cost sharing arrangement to design and construct the VTR.

The scope could include development and deployment of the VTR, other uses of VTR capabilities beyond just advanced reactor design and licensing, reducing the cost and schedule risk of new nuclear plant design and construction, and other compatible uses of VTR capabilities.

A key element of the value proposition to be brought to the table by a potential partner is to spell out the benefits of the partnership to the interested party and benefits of the partnership to the Department of Energy.

What is the Versatile Test Reactor?

The VTR is a state-of-the-art research and development facility that creates the conditions necessary to test how well fuels, materials and sensors endure when subjected to radiation in the form of fast neutrons.

The Versatile Test Reactor will have dedicated “fast-neutron-spectrum” testing capability, creating the conditions necessary to see how fuels, materials and sensors endure when subjected to radiation in the form of fast neutrons. 

VTR would perform radiation tests in a controlled environment that could be representative of any number of current or future reactor designs. Just a few months of high intensity neutron bombardment in a test reactor can mimic years in a power reactor core.

vtr core conceptual diagram

Conceptual desing for VTR core. Image: INL

In addition to helping with development of next-generation fast neutron reactors, the accelerated experimental results achieved with a fast neutron test reactor can benefit materials development for today’s water reactors, as well as other advanced thermal reactors that operate with slow neutrons at higher temperatures.

Time Frame for Deployment

DOE will decide, perhaps as soon as 2021, whether to proceed with building the VTR, at which point Congress would need to appropriate funding for the project to proceed, Battelle said.

While DOE has not decided where to located the physical facility, with choices among Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Idaho, the partnerhip program, if successful, is expected to enhance the Idaho site’s chances of landing the plant.

vtr timeline
Congress has already budgeted $100 million over the past couple of years to fund the project’s development. Construction could begin as soon as 2022 with operations commencing in 2026. The test reactor would be authorized by the DOE.  

Construction cost estimates vary from a low of $3 billion to $3.5 billion to a higher estimate of $3.9 billion to $6 billion. However, until a detailed design is completed, a verification of the real cost is still in the future.

 If interested in exploring a partnership relationship with the VTR effort, click here for more information regarding the Expression of Interest.   See also this PDF fileExpressions of Interest – Preliminary Design Information

Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) is the managing and operating contractor for the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

International Nuclear Energy Organization
Names DOE Official to Key Role in Setting Strategy

The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC) named U.S. Department of Energy official Suzanne Jaworowski on 11/16/19 as its new Steering Group chairperson. IFNEC made the announcement during its global conference in Washington, D.C. Jaworowski is a  a senior adviser with the Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy,

Jaworowski has served as vice chair of the Steering Group since December 2018, where she provided strategic counsel and communications support to IFNEC in addition to spearheading this week’s ministerial meetings and global conference on small modular reactors and advanced nuclear technologies.

The IFNEC forum brings together key stakeholders from 65 countries to explore different ways countries can work together to ensure the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The IFNEC Steering Group is the permanent body that oversees this work. The IFNEC consists of 34 Participant countries, 31 Observer countries and 4 international observers organizations.

Argentina’s Facundo Deluchi and Japan’s Kenji Totoki were also newly appointed as vice chairs.

The World Nuclear Association has an indepth summary of the topics covering in this important meeting.

Canadian National Laboratory to Fund Three SMRs 

  • CNL to Fund Collaborations With SMR Vendors to Accelerate Clean Energy Deployment
  • Negotiations underway with Terrestrial, USNC, Kairos and Moltex

cnl logoCanadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL announced this week that it has selected the first recipients of the Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI). This initiative seeks to accelerate the deployment of small modular reactors (SMR) in Canada by enabling research and development and connecting global vendors of SMR technology with the facilities and expertise within Canada’s national nuclear laboratories. 

CNRI recipients will be able to share technical expertise to advance the commercialization and deployment of SMR technologies.

“CNL has made significant progress over the past three years to position Canada as the hub for small modular reactor research, we have built up considerable expertise and knowledge in key technical areas that are common across SMR technologies,” commented Dr. Kathryn McCarthy, Vice-President of Science and Technology at CNL.

“CNRI allows CNL to respond directly and efficiently to the needs of industry by co-funding important R&D that accelerates deployment in an increasingly competitive commercial marketplace,” added Dr. Corey McDaniel, Chief Commercial Officer.

CNL received a strong response to the announcement of the initial intake, receiving applications from key players in the SMR industry in Canada and abroad. Submissions were accepted based on a list of designated focus areas, including market analysis, fuel development, reactor physics modelling, transportation, and others.

These CNRI projects, and others, were highlighted during the 7th SMR Vendor Roundtable held on November 19, 2019, at the ANS Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. It featured interactions from more than 30 reactor vendors included policymakers, regulators, customers, and national laboratories from around the world.

CNRI Applicants are required to match funds and in-kind contributions that will be made by CNL. The following projects have been selected for negotiations on the terms of cost sharing arrangements:

MOLTEX CANADA – Reactor developer Moltex Canada, along with the University of New Brunswick, seek to build and optimize a test apparatus to explore the potential of converting used CANDU power reactor fuel into a fuel form capable of powering their Stable Salt Reactor design. 

KAIROS-POWER – KAIROS-Power is proposing the development of a Tritium Management Strategy for its high-temperature fluoride salt-cooled reactor (KP-FHR) design. This CNRI project also includes early work to identify technologies to implement this strategy.   

ULTRASAFE NUCLEAR (USNC) – UltraSafe Nuclear Corporation is proposing work that seeks to resolve a broad array of technical questions in support of its Micro Modular Reactor (MMR). These include fuel processing, reactor safety, and fuel and graphite irradiation, among others.

TERRESTRIAL ENERGY – Terrestrial Energy Inc. will be evaluating the applicability of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation technologies to the IMSR400 reactor and other SMR designs.  This work will look at opportunities to utilize CNL’s existing facilities, most notably the ZED-2 reactor, as well as develop new experimental capabilities related to molten salt reactors.

CNL clarified in a statement on its website, “CNL is not building, designing or selling an SMR. Yes, we would love to host such a project but we are not in the business of designing and building reactors.”

CNL said its goal is to  “enable an SMR vendor or developer to use a CNL-managed site. We would work closely with them, with a high likelihood of providing support on a commercial basis every step of the way.”

The next call for CNRI proposals is expected in early 2020.  For submission details, or to learn more about CNRI, please visit the CRNI home page . For more information on CNL’s small modular reactor program, please visit CNL’s home page for all of its SMR efforts.

A video accompanying this announcement is available: CNL’s 6th SMR Vendor Roundtable was held concurrent with Canada’s hosting of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in Vancouver in May 2019. The video highlights the first time that small and advanced carbon-free nuclear energy was included in the CEM program.

France / Six New EPR Reactors Will Cost €46 Billion

NucNet   French state-controlled utility and nuclear operator EDF estimates it would cost at least €46bn to build six of its Generation III 1650 MWe EPR nuclear power reactors if the government decides to build them, French newspaper Le Monde reported last week.

Le Monde said the estimate was in a confidential document presented to the board of state-controlled EDF at the end of July.

Each 1,600-MW reactor would cost €7.5bn to €7.8bn, (€4700/Kw) ($5,170/kw) based on building the units in pairs with financing over about 20 years, Le Monde reported.

This would include additional line items such as “dismantling provisions” of €400m and provisions for “uncertainties” of €500m for each reactor, Le Monde said.  These numbers are unusually low. Either the newspaper got them wrong or someone at EDF is dreaming. 

The cost estimate is highly competitive relative to global trends and given EDF’s track record in Finland and France for the first two EPRs, would need significant verification to be credible.

At €7.5bn to €7.8bn the new units would still  cost more than four South Korean APR1400 units under construction at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates.  Estimates of the four units, of which three are still under construction, range from $20-24 billion or $5,000-$6,000/Kw or €4,550-€5460.

A May 2018 report by the UK-based Energy Technology Institute put the total capital cost of each Barakah unit at an average of $5bn, but noted that this was due partly to “a highly focused, deliberate and intentional program to drive down costs and drive up performance.”

This is  still much smaller amount than the estimated €12.4bn cost of the Flamanville-3 EPR under construction in northern France

The same report suggested that the total capital cost of Flamanville-3 will be €13.6bn. Flamanville-3 has been plagued by cost overruns and a series of technical problems resulting in years of delays.

Last month EDF chairman Jean-Bernard Lévy said it is clear that France is preparing to build new nuclear power plants and the best way to deliver them while bringing down costs is to build them in pairs.

France is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and “nobody thinks we can ensure this with an energy system only with renewables and storage. ”

According to Le Monde, Mr Lévy said plans to build new nuclear plants were “part of the mission” he was given when he was appointed five years ago.

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X-Energy Signs on with Jordan for Four 75 MWe HTGR

xenergy logoJordan and X-energy Agree to Accelerate Work to Deploy a 300 MWe Nuclear Power Plant

According to a statement released by X-Energy on November 15, 2019,  Jordan and X-Energy have moved to the second stage of their relationships by signing off on a letter of intent (LOI) to build four 75 MWe high temperature gas cooled reactors that burn Triso fuel.

The objective of the LOI is to accelerate the process to build a nuclear power plant project in Jordan by 2030. The LOI contemplates the power plant will be four of X-energy’s 75 MWe Xe-100 reactor plant which are helium cooled reactors and supplied by X-energy’s patented TRISO fuel.

Dr. Khaled Toukan, Chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), and Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, Executive Chairman of X-energy, LLC, signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) on Monday, November 11, 2019

The agreement was witnessed by Dr. Kamal Araj, Vice Chairman, JAEC and Mr. Clay Sell, CEO, X-energy, in a ceremony hosted by Ambassador Dina Kawar at the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, DC. Attendees included representatives from both organizations as well as representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Commerce and other industry representatives.

JAEC is seeking to encourage the development of a civilian nuclear power program in Jordan to meet its energy security objectives. As part of that effort, the JAEC is in the process of evaluating the most attractive nuclear design technology vendor to select the best that would meet the country’s requirements.

X-energy has been engaged in discussions with JAEC since 2017 and had previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding, November 5, 2017, that provides for a technology feasibility and deployment readiness evaluation of the Xe-100 in Jordan.

Prior coverage on this blogJordan Downsizes its Nuclear Energy Ambitions to SMRs

In July 2018 Jordan decided as a matter of policy to replace a prior deal with Rosatom for two 1000 MW VVER commercial nuclear reactors with a plan for small modular reactors including consideration of designs from the U.S. U.K., and South Korea. Jordan cited the financial burden of funding $10 billion for the two 1000 MW Rosatom VVERs as he reason for the decision.

Rosatom offered Jordan 50% financing with Jordan having the requirement to raise the other 50% with a combination of government funding and outside investors. The financial plan never came together for Jordan and the deal became a non-starter as a result.

Other SMR Deals?

Jordan has been in talks since 2017 with at least three different vendors of LWR and advanced small modular reactors. The talks include UK Rolls Royce for a to be named LWR type SMR, US based X-Energy which has a new generation of South Africa’s PBMR “pebble bed” high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR), and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) which also has an HTGR design.

According to the World Nuclear Association, in March 2017 an agreement between JAEC and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) was signed for a feasibility study on construction of two SMRs in Jordan for the production of electricity and desalinated water. KA-CARE has an agreement with Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) to build its 330 MWt (100 MWe) SMART pressurized water reactor.

In November 2017 JAEC signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of an SMR, and another with X-energy to consider building that company’s 75 MWe Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled reactor.

In April 2018 JAEC said it was in advanced negotiations with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a 220 MWe HTR-PM high temperature gas-cooled reactor for operation in 2025.

In November 2017, Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of understanding with JAEC to carry out a technical feasibility study for the construction of a Rolls-Royce SMR in Jordan. A similar agreement was also signed in November 2017 with X-Energy for electricity, water desalination and other thermal applications.

The Jordan Times reported separately that work on selecting a site for an SMR was proceeding in the Qusayer region near Azraq about 60km east of Amman. The paper reports that studies were conducted on the site by Belgium’s Tractebel, Korea Electric Power Corporation and Worley Parsons, with findings showing the suitability of the location for the facilities.

Jordan HTGR candidate site

Azraq, Jordan, location reported to be candidate site for X-Energy HTGR

Jordan has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 1978, and an Additional Protocol in force since 1998.

About X-Energy’s Reactor Technology

Each Xe-100 reactor will generate 200MWt and approximately 75MWe. The standard X-energy Reactor “four-pack” plant generates approximately 300MWe and will fit on as few as 13 acres. All of the components for the Xe-100 are intended to be road-transportable, and will be installed, rather than constructed, at the project site to streamline construction.

X-Energy-Reactor-Steam-Generator_thumb.png

The Generation IV X-energy reactor is helium cooled with a heat source based on pebble bed technology which has a proven meltdown proof core. Heat transfer is via a proven helical coil steam generator. Small size and modular construction result in relatively low cost. On-line fueling allows for continuous operations.

X-energy has not posted information on its website about the estimated cost of the units. However, using a hypothetical cost of $5,000/kw, the 300 MW of power would cost $1.5 billion which interestingly is same rough order of magnitude as the cost of the 300 MW PWR design that GE Hitachi recently announced in a deal with Estonia.

Note also that for a desert region like Jordan, a helium cooled reactor would not need the supplies of water required by a PWR, but would need the water for the steam cycle. This could be a source of competitive advantage for X-energy in he Middle East.

What is TRISO Fuel?

The X-Energy design is intended to run on TRISO fuel. TRistructural ISOtropic (TRISO) coated fuels start with a uranium kernel, which is coated with three layers of pyrolytic carbon and one layer of silicon carbide. These coatings encapsulate all product radionuclei under all operating conditions. TRISO particles can be formed into numerous fuel element geometries thus supporting multiple advanced reactor designs and concepts.

TRISO Development Center

X-energy is currently manufacturing uranium oxide/carbide (UCO) based kernels, tristructural isotropic (TRISO) particles, and fuel pebbles at a 5,000-sq. ft. pilot fuel facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as part of the DOE Advanced Reactor Concept 2015 Cooperative Agreement.

This DOE Project allows X-energy to move from Pilot toward a FOAK fuel facility that serves advanced reactors with HALEU requirements, TRISO-based fuel forms, and Accident Tolerant Fuel.

See prior coverage on this blogDOE Takes Divergent Paths to Fabrication of High Assay Fuels

X-energy is working to design, finance, and license their TRISO-X Commercial Fuel Fabrication Facility, scheduled to begin commercial-scale fuel production in the 2023-2024 timeframe.

Global Nuclear Fuel and X-energy Announce TRISO Fuel Collaboration

Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) and X-energy announced November 6th a collaboration to produce low-cost, high-quality TRi-structural ISOtropic (TRISO) particle nuclear fuel.

The companies have signed a teaming agreement for the purpose of developing High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) TRISO fuel to potentially supply the U.S. Department of Defense for micro-reactors and NASA for its nuclear thermal propulsion requirements.

See prior coverage on this blog – TRISO Fuel Drives Global Development of Advanced Reactors

“TRISO is a robust fuel form well suited for military and space applications,” said Clay Sell, X-energy’s CEO.

“The extremely high and unnecessary cost of working with HALEU in a Category I NRC facility has, in the past, limited TRISO’s economic viability in the marketplace. Utilizing X-energy’s already operational state-of-the-art equipment in GNF’s licensed facility changes the dynamic for TRISO-fueled reactor deployment.”

By leveraging X-energy’s currently operating commercial-scale TRISO production equipment and GNF’s NRC-licensed fuel fabrication facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, the teaming arrangement is expected to produce TRISO fuel of significantly higher quality and at costs that are substantially lower than other potential manufacturers.

TRISO coated fuels start with a uranium kernel, which is coated with three layers of pyrolytic carbon and one layer of silicon carbide. These coatings encapsulate all product radionuclei under all operating conditions. The enrichment level of TRIO fuel varies according to the reactor design with levels ranging from 9% U235 to not more than 19% U235.

rriso fuel 2
About X-energy

X-energy is an advanced nuclear reactor design and TRISO-based fuel fabrication company headquartered in Rockville, Maryland. X-energy’s reactor designs

  • utilize high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactors which cannot melt down,
  • are “walk-away” safe without operator intervention and;
  • reduce costs by utilizing factory-produced components that significantly reduce construction time.

X-energy is also manufacturing uranium oxide/carbide (UCO) based kernels, TRISO particles, and fuel pebbles at a 5,000-sq. ft. fuel facility located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as a prototype for its commercial fuel manufacturing facility.

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