Nuclear Export Trade Deals Come and Go

  • exportsU.S. Experts Brief Congress on How to Expand Overseas Business
  • Jordan Ditches $10 billion Deal with Rosatom for Twin 1000 MW VVERs
  • Hitachi Seeks U.K. Investors for Wylfa Twin 1350 MW ABWRs
  • China Tells U.K. It Won’t Ask for Local Financing for Three 1000 MW Hualong One Units at Bradwell Site

Nuclear Infrastructure Council Briefs
DC Policy Makers on Nuclear Technology Exports

A seven-member U.S. nuclear energy industry consortium addressed key Legislative and Executive Branch policymakers and industry influentials this week at a Special Capitol Hill Briefing. (link to slides below)

The 90-minute exchange was led by leading industry companies and organizations including;

  • Curtiss-Wright;
  • Westinghouse Electric;
  • U.S. Nuclear Industry Council;
  • Nuclear Energy Institute;
  • Nuclear Economics Consulting Group;
  • Edlow International; and
  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers provided organizational support for the event.

Top International Trade Administration global markets official Ian Steff provided a keynote on “Choosing to Compete in the Global Nuclear Energy Market.”  Steff worked for VP Pence in Indiana when Pence was the state’s governor. He has a background on the business side in trade issues involving the semi-conductor industry.  With regard to the nuclear export world, Steff said,

“The global market potential for nuclear energy is massive, and the United States, where nuclear power was developed, should lead the global expansion. Our U.S. industry must choose to compete at the highest levels and the U.S. government is committed to moving this forward.”

Briefing topics included:

  • Understanding the Export Market;
  • The Export Potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs);
  • The Value of Commercial Nuclear Exports to the U.S. Economy;
  • Financing of Nuclear Energy Projects;
  • Commercial Nuclear Exports as a Foreign Policy Tool; and
  • How Industry & Government Can Collaborate for Success.

Discussion focuses included the stakes for the U.S. in the global market and pivotal commercial races for large baseload reactors and advanced nuclear;

  • electrification, megacities, water stress and electric vehicle growth drivers — and SMRs as a game changer;
  • the substantial economic benefits of the domestic nuclear fleet;
  • competition against state-owned entities and the need for the U.S. government as a champion for the global market;
  • the lack of a cohesive policy to compete with China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative
  • Russia’s new nuclear build program in strategic countries; and
  • an eight-point plan for what Congress and the Administration should do.

All of the presentations (PDF file) may be accessed at: https://bit.ly/2Mt3FUj

Jordan Calls It Quits with Rosatom for Twin 1000 MW VVER
Over Demand for Commercial Financing of the Project

Jordan has cancelled a $10 billion project to build the country’s first nuclear power plant with Russian reactors. The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) said on June 11th that it ended the plan with Rosatom because the Russian side wanted to secure the financing through commercial loans, which the JAEC said were too costly. The JAEC also complained that the higher cost of locally financing the project would result in much higher rates for electricity from the plants.

In a statement, JAEC told The Jordan Times that commercial loans “would have increased the cost of the project and the prices of generated electricity.”

The demand by Rosatom for retail commercial loans in the Jordanian deal is a sharp change from its past practice of offering generous financing for its export deals.  It may reflect the fact that while oil prices briefly rose earlier this year, they are now retreating from the mid $70s to the mid $60s which is where they have been since January 2015 thus apparently hindering Russia’s ability to finance mega nuclear export projects.

The plan for VVERs in Jordan, first agreed to in 2015, would have built two 1000 MW VVERs. With a $10B price tag, the plants would have cost $5,000/Kw thus revealing that claims of costs  of $4,000 Kw for other Rosatom export projects may have been understated.

Egypt recently signed a contract with Rosatom to build four 1200 MW VVER which would bring the cost of these reactors to $24B. Additional costs would be incurred to build out the regional electric grid to deliver the power to customers.

In April Rosatom moved ahead absent local investors in Turkey to begin laying concrete for Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which will use four VVER-1200 reactors. Rostom has seen Turkish investors backpedal from the project primarily due to the lack of rate guarantees by the government for power from the reactors.

The plan with Russia had been in development since 2014, Since then Jordan had been considering a number of reactor vendors including several nonbinding agreements with developers of small modular reactors; Rolls Royce (LWR SMR), X-Energy (HTGR Pebble Bed), and China (HTGR pebble bed). Rosatom also reportedly offered Jordan an SMR but did not specify the design.

Jordan’s other major concern about nuclear power deals is where it will get the water supply for the steam system. A coastal site would provide sea water for the cooling loop for steam coming off the turbine. However, Jordan’s preferred site for a nuclear power station is not on the coast.

It might reconsider the site location if it looks further into coastal sites based on what Rosatom has hinted that it could offer Jordan one of its floating nuclear power plants as an SMR. In May, the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, left the Baltic Shipping Company in St. Petersburg bound for Chukotka.

The plant, modeled on two KLT-40 nuclear icebreaker-style reactors, took over 13 years and $480 million to build. The reactors use uranium fuel at 35% U235.

The project took much longer to complete, and cost a good deal more than expected, but it is an investment Russia is anxious to now promote for export sales.

The problem for any customer is that the floating plant is enormous (472 feet long, 98 feet wide, displacement of 21,500 tonnes) for the amount of power it provides which is 70 MW electrical, 135 MW thermal, each reactor and for transfer of power to onshore grids.

The combined power of 140 MW electrical requires a crew of 69 people which includes staff to operate the non-nuclear systems of the ship itself. Also, some of the power generated by the reactor doesn’t go to the customer because it is needed to operate the ship.

So far Rosatom has not announced any export deals for the floating units.

Hitachi Seeks Japanese Partners
in Building $27B UK Nuclear Plant

(Nikkei)  Hitachi continues to search for ways to share the burdens of building a British nuclear power plant and now is sounding out the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) and several Japanese power companies about taking stakes in the project.

The firm is looking to Japanese power companies for both funding and expertise. That may be difficult as these firms are reportedly still struggling with the heavy financial fallout from the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The cost projection for the Wylfa project on the Welsh island of Anglesey has rocketed to $27 billion.  It is unclear why the cost of the two reactors is so high as 2700 MW at $5000/Kw would come in at half that amount.

To keep it commercially viable, the British government pledged on June 4 to offer a loan estimated to be worth $18 billion. Negotiations between Hitachi and the UK government are ongoing.

In addition, $2.7 billion is to be invested in the Hitachi subsidiary responsible for developing and building the plant, with $900 million coming from a consortium of Japanese companies and the Japanese government.

Signing on for investment are the Chubu Electric Power, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, Kansai Electric Power, Chugoku Electric Power and Hokuriku Electric Power as well as Japan Atomic Power. A government export bank, the DBJ, is also being asked for support. TEPCO, which is facing decades of multi-billions in costs to decommission the Fukushima plant, is unlikely to support the Hitachi effort.

Hitachi is also asking the utilities for technical support. Japan Atomic Power already plans to support such aspects as operation and maintenance of the U.K. plant with U.S. energy provider Exelon. Tepco and Chubu Electric both operate in Japan boiling water reactors, the same type that will be built on Anglesey which are 1350 MW ABWRs.

There are still major details to determine about Hitachi’s U.K. nuclear project, such the price of the power that it produces, and completing these estimates will be essential in order bring investors to the table.

Chinese Nuclear Firm Will Not Seek
UK Gov’t Investment for Bradwell Effort

(Reuters) A planned nuclear plant at the Bradwell site will not require state investment, the Chinese company expected to build it said after the U.K. government was criticized for helping the Hinkley and Wylfa projects.

According to Reuters, Robert Davies, chief operating officer of CGN UK, a UK subsidiary of China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), said  “It is not our plan to seek direct investment from the UK government for Bradwell B.”

The project is expected to involve construction of three 1000 MW PWR type Hualong One, which is the export design offered by China General Nuclear (CGN). At $5,000/KW the $3000 MW plant would cost $15 billion.

That number will surely be revisited as the decision to break ground moves closer to reality. Also, the size of the project may be revisited as work on it won’t start until the Hinkley C site is finished. CGN has a one-third equity stake in that project.

CGN’s Davies told Reuters “it was too early to discuss funding in detail but, but the fact that the Chinese-owned firm said it will not need such direct investment shows it is confident of funding the project itself, or being able to raise the cash.”

A second challenge the project faces is to come in with an affordable rate structure for power produced by the plant.

Davies told Reuters CGN’s Bradwell project would expect a much lower minimum guarantee price.

“We know we have to get within a realistic range of (the cost of) offshore wind,” he said.

Reuters reports that some U.K. offshore wind projects were awarded a minimum price as low as 57.50 pounds per megawatt hour (MWh) in the latest round of subsidies, compared with the 92.50 pounds per MWh guaranteed for Hinkley.

The Hualong One is in the second phase of the generic design approval process for nuclear safety review in the U.K. Davies said he expects the GDA process to be completed by the end of 2021. A final decision to invest in the plant will be made at that time he said.

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Big Stories about China, Belefonte, and Belene

  • Russia inks a deal with China to build four 1200 MW VVERs and to supply MOX fuel for an advanced reactor. It’s the biggest nuclear energy deal ever between the two countries.
  • SNC Lavalin signs on to be the EPC to complete Bellefonte 1. Much depends on financing the project and finding a customer for its power.
  • Bulgaria’s parliament revives the Belene project, Unit 2, and to initiate a search for investors. By putting all the the risk in the hands of the investors, its faces a steep challenge to find them and an EPC.

xl sizeNot everyone, it turns out, wants to build small modular reactors (SMRs). This past week was full of announcements of plans to build full size nuclear reactors. The news comes in several  pieces and most of them are XXL size.

China has signed up to build two 1200 MW Russian supplied VVERs at Xudabao, a “greenfield” site, and two more at Tianwan, Units 6 & 7. Both are coastal sites. Rosatom will also supply MOX fuel for the CFR-600, a Chinese designed fast reactor and fuel and equipment for radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for China’s space program.

SNC-Lavalin, which purchased AECL’s reactor division a few years ago, has signed a letter of agreement with a Tennessee firm, Nuclear Development LLC, to be the engineering, procurement, and construction lead (EPC) to complete construction of Bellefonte 1, which was designed to be a B&W 1200 MW PWR.  It is unlikely, for this reason, that it would be converted to a CANDU type unit, which is SNC Lavalin’s expertise.

After more almost a decade of indecision, the Bulgarian parliament has authorized the country’s energy ministry to search for investors to build a second unit at the Belene site. Work on plans for a 2nd unit were halted in 2012.

China’s Really Big Deal

The deal with Rosatom was made at the top levels of the Chinese government with involvement of China’s Atomic Energy Authority, the National Energy Administration, and the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC).

A deal of this magnitude was most likely also signed off on by Xi Jinping, the President of the Peoples Republic of China. At an estimated “overnight cost” in the range of $4000/Kw, +/- $500/KW, four 1200 MW units would come in at $19 billion more or less.

A report by the Bloomberg wire service offered a low ball estimate for all parts of the deal, including the MOX fuel, and the RTGs, at $15.5 billion.  However, the wire service is correct that it is the biggest nuclear deal ever agreed to by the two countries. Also, according to the wire service, China will be responsible for financing the construction of the reactors. This is significant because in many other Rosatom export deals, the Russian firm offers generous terms for financing to its customers.

An interesting element of the deal is that Russia will supply MOX fuel for an advanced reactor, the CFR600, a 600 MW  According to the IAEA, the CFR 600 will be designed to demonstrate the breeding ability of fast reactor. World Nuclear News noted that Fast neutron reactors (FNRs) are seen as the main reactor technology for China, and CNNC expects the FNR to become predominant by mid-century. CNNC reports that it poured first concrete for the project last January and has plans to complete building the reactor by 2023.

Mark Hibbs, a nuclear energy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes in his new book about nuclear energy in China that China has limited experience using MOX and that it hasn’t done much in terms of  fabricating the U-238/U235/PU-239 mixed oxide fuel.

Also, as of last January, China was reported to still be in negotiations with Areva for a deal involving an 800 tonne/year MOX plant with an estimated price tag of $15 billion. It appears in dealing with the “make-v.-buy” equation, China has for the time being opted for “buy” when it comes to MOX.

At the Tiawan plant China is also building two Hualong One 1080 MW PWRs (Units 5 & 6). Ground was broken for the plants in December 2015 with completion scheduled for December 2020 for Unit 5 and October 2021 for Unit 6.

An side note about the greenfield Xudabao site, located along China’s northernmost coastline, is that the World Nuclear Association has a report that six Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors are slated for that site to be build as CAP1000s, the Chinese version based on technology transfer from Westinghouse. WNA notes that China has swapped out plans for the first two CAP1000s for the Russian 1200 MW VVERs.

Will Bellefonte 1 Rise Again?

Franklin Haney, a Tennessee real estate developer, age 77, hopes to close on his purchase by auction of TVA’s Bellefonte site located in Scottsboro, Al, by this December.  The deal included two partially built B&W 1200 MW PWR type nuclear reactors, cooling towers, switch yards, roads, rail lines, and other infrastructure.

In anticipation of completing the deal, he’s signed a letter of agreement through his firm Nuclear Development LLC with SNC Lavalin to be the EPC to complete Bellefonte 1. The deal with SNC Lavalin will not go through if Haney does not close on his purchase of Bellefonte with TVA.

The whole thing is a risky proposition. Bellefonte is a “white elephant,” according to a December 2016 research paper by Chris Gadomski, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“Skeptics would be justified in wondering how reviving 1960s-era nuclear reactors that have been questionably maintained for decades represents a viable economic opportunity.”

This blog is one of those “skeptics” laying out the challenges the project faces in an analysis posted here in November 2016.

Haney’s big problem is to find financing to complete Bellefontge 1 which would likely cost him at least $4 billion which is what TVA paid to complete Watts Bar II.  Bellefonte 1 is more complete than Bellefonte 2 which was stripped of many significant components when TVA abandoned the construction of both units in 1988.

Haney has been lobbying the Trump administration and congress for production tax credits and loan guarantees as incentives to bring investors to the table.  He donated $1 million to Trump’s Inauguration  Committee and over $100,000 to the Republican National Committee.

The Bloomberg wire service reported in 2017 that Haney told people close to him that he has dined with President Trump at least a dozen times since the election. Haney is also a member of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida club.

Haney’s efforts have brought him into communications with a wide assortment of people and organizations.  According to the magazine Mother Jones, he cast his eyes on sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East.

“At a meeting in Miami on April 5, 2018,  Franklin Haney, the owner of an inoperative nuclear power plant in Hollywood, Alabama, sought a major investment for his facility, according to two sources familiar with the gathering.

His target, the sources say, was Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, Qatar’s minister of economy and commerce and deputy chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, the $300 billion sovereign wealth fund of the natural-gas-rich Persian Gulf state.

Also at the meeting, according to the sources, was Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer. (Several days later, Cohen’s office and home would be raided by federal agents.)

Now, as the Trump scandal expands to include Cohen’s business deals and possible interactions between Trump associates and officials of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, any relationship between Cohen and Qatar would likely be of interest to federal investigators.” 

Haney’s efforts to secure funding could be complicated by these investigations. His meetings with Al Thani and Cohen reportedly took place in Miami and may have overlapped in terms of timing one of his dinners with President Trump.

To be successful Haney must not only get NRC approval to complete construction, and operate the plant, he must also convince TVA to buy power from it.  The utility has stated in its most current Integrated Resource Plan that it has no plans to acquire new nuclear powered generation capacity.

TVA backed off of a deal with BWX to design and license twin 180 MW SMRs and instead is pursuing an Early Site Permit (ESP) which has no preferred reactor design in it. If issued by the NRC, the ESP would be good for 20 years.

Bulgaria to Begin Belene Again

According to World Nuclear News, citing the Bulgarian News Agency, enthusiasm about Parliament’s decision to authorize the energy ministry to seek investors for a 2nd unit at Belene should be taken with a grain or two of salt.

“We should not act prematurely, and we should not trumpet about restarting the project,” Nenkov said. “We are not restarting anything. We are giving a mandate for studies in the next five months to probe investors’ interest. If future investors have serious intentions and see considerable economic and financial potential, they will be inclined to take a greater risk as is stipulated in our conditions for the negotiations.”

Significantly, the project would be a straight commercial proposition with no government financial backing or rate guarantees. The investors would take on the risks of owning and operating the plant, hiring and managing the EPC and the eventual plant operator.

Russia regards Bulgaria’s nuclear energy plants as a captive market and has thwarted efforts by western firms to even bid on projects there.

A bit of history is need here. Prior to the 2012 decision to stop work, Bulgaria’s National Electric Company had in 2006 awarded a contract to Russia’ Atomstroyexport to build two 1000 MW VVERs at the Belene site which is located on the Danube River near the Romanian border.

In 2012 Westinghouse signed a contract to prepare a proposal for a third reactor at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy site. Efforts by the firm to take over construction of the plant came to an end when Russia said has no intention of sharing information with Westinghouse regarding a feasibility study. That project is designed to scope out the potential for a seventh unit at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant.

It’s unclear whether as part of its efforts to re-establish its nuclear reactor business that it Westinghouse would seek to bid on the Belene project. In 2010 Westinghouse reportedly told the US Embassy in Sofia that the 1st unit was “a lemon” according to a US State Department Cable as reported by the UK Guardian newspaper.

The embassy cable, dated February 17, 2009, also complained about endemic corruption in Bulgaria associated with the project.

“When Bulgarians talk about the Belene nuclear power plant, they increasingly do so in hushed tones. Issues of delays, financing woes, non-transparent horse-trading and side deals, Russian influence, middle-man rent seeking, and the interests of well-connected politicians and energy oligarchs inevitably come up.”

With the new search for investors, China’s CNNC has expressed interest in the project. The Reuters wire service reported last March that the firm was looking at the $12 billion project. It sent a letter of intent / interest to the Bulgarian Energy Ministry.

According to NucNet in May 2018 deputy prime minister Tomislav Donchev and energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova met representatives of the Chinese company in Sofia. Petkova was later asked by parliament to present by the end of June 2018 a number of  options for Belene. According to Bulgarian news media reports she said that a tendering procedure for Belene could begin by the end of 2018, if Bulgarian lawmakers would “give a mandate” for it.

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As costs drop, power increases, SMRs may ride like the wind

  • NuScale Power LogoNuScale announces a 20% increase in electrical output combined with a significant decrease in the cost
  • NuScale in an exclusive Q&A provides more details on its power and cost changes to the SMR’s design

NuScale, which is developing a small modular reactor, has just announced that it has revised its design to offer 20% more electrical output and at the same time it has reduced the cost to deliver each unit by $800/Kw.

These developments may point to new opportunities for wind developers to co-locate their projects with SMRs to keep the grid humming. Affordable SMRs may open opportunities to utilities which cannot invest in ‘bet the company’ efforts for full size projects.

Summary of NuScale Press Statement

NuScale Power announces its small modular reactor (SMR) can generate 20 percent more power than originally planned. Advanced testing and modeling tools helped NuScale identify optimization opportunities and increased power generation.

According to the statement, increasing the power generating capacity of a 12-module NuScale SMR plant by 20 percent, with very minimal change in capital costs, lowers the cost of the facility on a per kilowatt basis from an expected $5,000 to approximately $4,200.

It also lowers NuScale’s levelized cost of electricity by up to 18 percent, making it even more competitive with other electricity generation sources. The new gross-output of a NuScale power plant to 720 MWe (12 60 MW units) only offers an impressive amount of carbon-free generation. It also measures up to significant savings when compared to today’s competing gigawatt-size plants.  It has the potential to make nuclear power affordable for a much wider range of electric utilities.

NuScale’s first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), is planning the development of a 12-module NuScale plant.

The regulatory process of increasing the level of maximum reactor power at which a nuclear plant can operate is referred to as a power uprate. The 20 percent power increase will be reviewed separately. The firm said it wil not impact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) current design review of NuScale’s SMR or the scheduled September 2020 approval date of its Design Certification Application (DCA). (See Q&A below)

Since NuScale has made this determination before any plant construction or equipment manufacture, UAMPS will reap the benefit of this optimization without licensing or construction delays.

In January, NuScale announced the NRC agreed NuScale’s SMR design approach requires no safety-related power to safely shut down. No operating nuclear plant in the U.S. can make that claim.

The NRC also recently completed its Phase 1 review of NuScale’s DCA. It’s the most rigorous of the remaining five phases combined and resulted in just one-third the average number of requests for additional information compared to other applicants, demonstrating the simplicity of NuScale’s SMR design and the quality of its application.

NuScale’s first plant will be operational in the mid-2020s.

The majority investor in NuScale is Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR), a global engineering, procurement, and construction company with a 60-year history in commercial nuclear power.

Exclusive Q&A with NuScale about its Announcement

(NB) NeutronBytes posed a series of questions to (NS) NuScale via email. The firm replied. All of the questions and the unedited answers from NuScale follow below. Formatting has been added to set off the questions from the answers.

NB: Is it correct to call the fuel with a higher level of enrichment “high burnup fuel” or is there another name for it?

NS: Fuel “burnup” is a term used to describe how much uranium has been utilized in a reactor and is represented in gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (GWd/MTU). The longer the fuel spends in the reactor, the higher the burnup. The enrichment level of fuel is the weight percent of U235, which is different than burnup, and is limited by regulation to less than 5% for commercial nuclear power plants. To support a power uprate, the enrichment level of the fuel will increase slightly, but remain below the 5% limit. The average burnup will remain about the same.

NB: Does the new fuel change the number of fuel assemblies in the reactor? How many fuel assemblies does it now use?  Same, more, or less?

NS: The number of fuel assemblies remains unchanged at 37.

NB: Does the new fuel extend the time between fuel outages and if so what is the delta between the old timeline and the new one?  What would be a typical timeframe between outages?  Is this a key competitive factor for customers?

There is no change to the length of the operating cycle before refueling.  A refueling outage nominally takes 10 days every two years per power module. In the modular NuScale design, the remaining eleven power modules continue to operate generating power while the twelfth module is being refueled. Essentially, the facility can still provide 92% power while one module is out of service for refueling. This short outage duration and continued facility generation is a key competitive factor not found in other SMRs.

NB: Does the new fuel produce more steam? At a higher temperature or pressure?  If so did you have to make changes to the steam generator or turbine designs?

NS: The fuel is producing more energy, which does produce more steam in the steam generators, resulting in higher electrical output. This did not require changes to the steam generator. Of course the turbine needs to be able to support the higher output, so the specification for the turbine and generator are changed.

NB: How many units do you need in your order book to convince investors to put up the money for a factory as compared to First of a Kind (FOAK) builds of units at the Idaho site (12 planned).  For example, what would it cost today to build a factory today if you had orders for three more sites, e.g., total build out of 36 reactor units? Is that a big enough number to bring investors to the table?

NuScale itself does not have current plans to build a factory to fabricate NuScale Power Modules™ (NPMs). NuScale is currently in the process of selecting a fabrication partner to fabricate the NPMs. Any investment in additional factory capacity will be undertaken by the NPM fabricator. Utilizing a diverse supply chain, there is substantial fabrication capacity available today for the first several NuScale plants. Securing or constructing additional factory capacity will be a function of the expected timing for the fulfillment of additional orders.

Investor discussions are business sensitive and remain confidential.

NB: what factors are the top three technically that account for the majority of the announced cost reduction?

NS: NuScale has completed more than $70 million dollars in hardware tests, including comprehensive testing of the fuel and helical coil steam generators. The data obtained in these test programs has been used to validate and refine the predictive capability of our advanced thermal hydraulic safety analysis computer codes.  Based on the refined state-of-the-art computer modeling now available, NuScale was able to demonstrate a 20% power increase while fully satisfying design and regulatory requirements.

NB: Please explain how a 20% power uprate does not change the design basis for the reactor relative to the DCA?

NuScale’s DCA will proceed to approval without the 20% uprate. However, we are preparing a Standard Design Approval (SDA) for review and approval by the NRC to accommodate the uprate. This allows U.S. customers to decide if they wish to proceed initially with the DCA power level and uprate or include the SDA in their COLA. The power modules will be identical whether operated at 160 MWt (50 MWe) or 200MWt (60 MWe).

Premier Technology Breaks Ground on New Expansion

The Idaho State Journal reports Premier Technology in Blackfoot held a groundbreaking ceremony this week for its new 70,000-square-foot, $15 million facility expansion.

Premier Technology is currently a finalist for a new small modular reactor manufacturing site, which if secured would provide the company with small modular reactor contracts from around the country.  Most significantly, the firm hopes to be a supplier to NuScale which will build its FOAK SMRs just up the road at a site located at the Idaho National Laboratory.

“In 1997, when we founded the company, we rented a small shop over on Garrett Way, and it was 5,000 square feet,” Sayer said. “We had half a dozen employees. So we’ll continue to grow.”

The expansion is a result of an increased number of contracts and customers and will quadruple capacity.

Doug Sayer, an executive with the firm, said what he was “most excited” about was the investment in automated equipment. According to Sayer, about $10 million of the $15 million expansion will be invested in the new equipment.

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World Environment Day in 2018 Silent on Nuclear Energy

So much for global warming, but there is a great future in plastics.

un_environment_full_lightAccording to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), World Environment Day (WED) occurs on the 5th of June every year, and is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

First held in 1974, it has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime (more on this last item below).

WED has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually. Each year, WED has a new theme that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes.

WED Misses the Boat on Nuclear Energy

With all of the emphasis on global warming, and the relatively untapped potential to use CO2 emission-free nuclear power to slow the releases of greenhouse gas emissions, one would think that WED would include something about its role. However, a review of the current WED activities, and those in the past, reveal virtual silence on the subject.

In 2018 WED is concerned with the spread of plastics in the world’s oceans. While this is a commendable goal, it is irrelevant to the issue of how nuclear energy can help address global warming. Perhaps as a suggestion, the UNEP could make public data on CO2 emissions per capita for the world’s nations.

As a comparison, it would be helpful to drive home the point about nuclear energy to publish a related index that ties CO2 emissions per capita to energy sources by country.

Countries Launch a Nuclear Innovation Initiative

Not all is lost. Some countries, aware of rising CO2 emissions, and despite the silence of the UNEP on global warming, have announced an effort at international cooperation to develop nuclear energy for both industrialized and developing nations.

At the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM9) meeting help in Denmark last month, a new nuclear innovation partnership was announced under the leadership of the United States, Canada, and Japan.

Called “Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future),” the initiative will, for the first time, put the spotlight at CEM9 on nuclear energy in clean energy systems.

U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Canadian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources Kim Rudd, and Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Masaki Ogushi jointly launched the NICE Future initiative at the Ninth CEM in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The NICE Future initiative will address improved power system integration through innovative, integrated, and advanced energy systems and applications, such as nuclear-renewable systems, combined uses of heat and power, hydrogen production, and industrial decarbonization.

It will highlight the opportunities for nuclear energy technologies to reduce emissions and air pollution from power generation, industry, and end-use sectors.

U.S. Lead Statement

U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Brouillette led off a press event saying, “I would like to acknowledge the countries and organizations that have joined the United States, Canada, and Japan in the creation and launch of the NICE Future initiative.”

“Secretary Rick Perry and I are quite proud of this initiative and the ambitious program it sets forth. Having nuclear included at the Clean Energy Ministerial will create greater global recognition of its many unique benefits.”

He pointed out that nuclear energy is an important contributor to global clean energy supply, both as a primary source of clean energy and by enabling other clean energy sources. Globally, nuclear energy produces nearly one-third of the world’s emissions-free electricity.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also found that global nuclear energy generation would need to double from current levels by 2040 to meet global clean energy goals.

“The NICE Future initiative highlights these contributions by reimagining nuclear’s advanced uses and applications. Nuclear provides a cleaner, safer, more reliable, and more resilient energy supply for our world,” Brouillette said.

The issue that invariably comes up at these high sounding diplomatic confabs is that the lofty rhetoric is often contrasted with the stark realities that the effort is trying to address.

While DOE officials are extoling nuclear energy’s benefits in Denmark, in the U.S. the Trump administration is strangling scientific expertise within the government which is trying to address global warming.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt, who hails from oil-rich Oklahoma, has virtually wiped out the agency’s expertise on the subject. His demolition of the agency’s capabilities follows the White House policy lead which withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accordin August 2017.

Meanwhile, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, and others, an increasing number of nuclear reactors in the U.S., more than a dozen, are at risk of closing due to the low price of natural gas. As reactors close more gas plants open increasing CO2 emissions.

Four plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania are the latest to succumb to this market induced trend. The state legislators in both states have done next to nothing to address the issue. Terrified of the political consequences of rapidly raising rates, they have more or less sat on their hands while First Energy’s finances turned into a world class bankruptcy.

By comparison the States of New York, New Jersey, and Illinois have enacted measures to support zero emission credits (ZEC) to keep their plants open.

Paradoxically in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has support ZEC measures to upstate plants, but continued his campaign to close the Indian Point plant (2200 MW) located just north of New York City.

Cuomo’s campaign has come at the behest of well-heeled green groups that represent a source, among others, of campaign contributions to Cuomo’s election and his rumored ambitions for higher office. You can’t keep the subways and Metro North trains running on solar energy and wind power.

Canada’s Strong Nuclear Industry is in the Mix

A bright spot in the global nuclear landscape is what’s been happening in Canada.

Kim Rudd, Parliamentary Secretary to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources said in regard to NICE, “Canada is excited to be a part of this initiative. Nuclear energy is already an important part of Canada’s energy mix and innovative nuclear technologies, including Small Modular Reactors, have a key role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, the situation is different north of the U.S. border. About 15% of Canada’s electricity comes from nuclear power, with 19 reactors mostly in Ontario providing 13.5 GWe of power capacity.

For many years Canada has been a leader in nuclear research and technology, exporting reactor systems developed in Canada as well as a high proportion of the world supply of radioisotopes used in medical diagnosis and cancer therapy.

Japan Strives to Make Nuclear 20% of Its Energy Supply

Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Masaki Ogushi stated, “I expect this initiative would bring the wisdom of the world on nuclear innovation together, and contribute to policymaking for realizing clean-energy systems that solve challenges in each country.”

“Our aim is to promote nuclear innovation utilizing out-of-the-box ideas from the private sector, pursuing the development of reactors with new concepts, including harmonization with renewable energy, combined with enhanced safety, efficiency, and flexibility.”

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. A Japanese government energy planning panel said in April that, despite lingering Fukushima related fears that have hobble reactor restarts, the country should be building new nuclear plants to help meet long-term emissions targets. [IAEA TABLE: Status of nuclear reactors in Japan]

It said that the country should rapidly develop new reactor designs that are safer and cheaper to operate. The panel also called for accelerating development in hydrogen, produced by nuclear reactors, and in energy storage technology.

At the same time, the panel said that Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power, shift from coal to gas and boost renewable energy. In the past Japan’s heavy dependence on nuclear energy was driven by global competition, primarily with China, for oil and other fossil fuels.

Japan’s once high-profile plan for a “plutonium economy,” based on reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel into mixed oxide fuel (MOX), or for use in fast reactors, has not been successful. In December 2016, the government called it quits with its Monju fast-breeder reactor project. The project has been plagued by accidents, management transparency issues, and huge cost overruns.  It never achieved its expected levels of performance.

Yet, the panel, in pushing for new, advanced reactors, went further than the current policy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Shogo Tanaka, director of the METI energy strategy office told Reuters, “The report does not specifically talk about possible building of new reactors or replacing existing reactors, but it does not deny such a possibility either.”

This is a bit of hand wringing which recognizes that recognizes several nuclear reactors were under construction in March 2011, at the time of the Fukushima crisis, and that the utilities building them want to see them completed and in revenue service. Still, this is a change from a year ago when the government went out of its way to deny that there was any consideration of completing these units.

UAE is a Nuclear Energy Leader in the Mideast

Others involved with the NICE initiative noted nuclear energy’s strategic benefits. Dr. Matar Al Neyadi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Energy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said, “Nuclear energy in the UAE plays a strategic role as a clean energy source that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, diversify our energy portfolio, and is already creating highly-skilled employment opportunities which support long-term sustainability.”

The UAE is building four South Korean designed 1400 MW PWRs at a coastal site on the Persian Gulf. The first unit is expected to enter revenue serviced in late 2019. Three other units are expected to connect to the grid at regular intervals.

The first unit was expected to start in May 2017, but fuel loading has been twice delayed due to the results of operational readiness reviews which reportedly surfaced issues related to plant equipment as installed and staff training.

Once in operation, the total of 5600 MW of nuclear power will replace natural gas units and also power desalinization of water for industrial and domestic use.

Poland Continues to Explore Nuclear Energy

Poland has blown hot and cold about replacing its aging fleet of coal fired plants with nuclear reactors. Last February Poland’s Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski said that the government will decide later this year whether to build its first nuclear power plant to lower carbon emissions as part of a plan to reduce dependence on coal in the long term.

Michal Kurtyka, Poland’s Secretary of State, said, “This initiative will help spur exchanges on technology development, expanding innovative, clean-energy options that can grow our economy and advance our energy security.”

Poland, which uses coal to generate most of its electricity, plans to lower the share of coal in its energy production by mid-century.  As has been the case in other countries in Europe, like the Czech Republic, the government has struggled with how to finance $5-10 billion in new infrastructure and the political costs of guaranteeing rates to run the plant to break even or better for 60 years.

Poland’s state-run PGE, Poland’s biggest power producer, is expected to be responsible for the nuclear project. Approval was expected to be taken last year, but the financing of the nuclear power plant remains a problem. In the end the government must guarantee that the money will be there to complete the project once it breaks ground.

The energy ministry is also looking at possibilities to deploy smaller, lower cost, high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) in the future in addition to conventional light-water reactors.

U.K. Commitment to Nuclear Energy is Clear

The UK has plans for 19 GWE of new nuclear power as its 1st generation of plants reach the end of their service lives and, more significantly, as the North Sea oil fields are depleted of their resources.

With regard to the NICE initiative, Richard Harrington, Business and Industry Minister of the United Kingdom said, “Today’s pivotal global initiative continues an essential dialogue on the role of nuclear in the clean energy systems of the future.”

“Advancing innovative technology in nuclear will enable us to continue this momentum, and it is crucial that nations are coming together in this way to share expertise around this dynamic clean energy technology.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, The U.K. has 15 reactors generating about 21% of its electricity but almost half of this capacity is to be retired by 2025. The U.K .has implemented a very thorough assessment process for new reactor designs and their siting. The U.K. has privatized power generation and liberalized its electricity market, which together make major capital investments problematic.

The first of about 19 GWe of new-generation plants is expected to be online by 2025. The government aims to have 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity operating by 2030, with no restriction on foreign equity.

The country also has full fuel-cycle facilities including major reprocessing plants.

Other Countries

Countries participating in the NICE Future Initiative include the U.S., Canada, Japan, Argentina, Poland, Romania, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and the U.K. More countries have indicated strong interest. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) have noted their interest and support for the initiative.

In kind of an odd note, the U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory will serve as an initiative operating agent. Assuming that DOE is serious about its support of nuclear energy, why didn’t it assign this role to the Idaho National Laboratory which is the agency’s lead lab for nuclear R&D?

Using Nuclear Science to Help Halt Illegal Trade in Ivory and Timber

World Environment Day in 2017 focused on fighting the illegal trade in wildlife products. This is because the trade of threatened or endangered species is of increasing global concern, and monitoring it could include using scientific measures.

By measuring stable isotopes in wildlife products such as ivory from endangered elephants, scientists can identify where the animal lived. This is the focus of a project sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that started in early 2017.

“Stable isotopes could play an important role in the protection of endangered species and threatened habitats,” said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories. “Science-based tools can offer support to monitoring programs and confirm that statements of origin are accurate.”

The isotopic composition of ivory provides information about what an elephant ate and drank, providing scientists with information on the environment in which the animal lived. The stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water have a characteristic global pattern: when an elephant drinks, the isotopic signature of that water is preserved in its tusks.

By analyzing the isotopic composition of ivory, scientists can determine the probable geographical origin of an elephant, which in turn could help enforcement agencies identify regions where poaching is taking place and enable them to allocate resources in the right areas to cut off the ivory trade at its root. Certain isotopes can also provide information on the age of ivory and could help assess whether the animal was killed before the ban on trade was implemented.

The same methods can be applied to the illegal trade of protected wood species. International timber eco-certifications are not always reliable due to the lack of trustworthy information as to the exact source of timber, information which is necessary to verify that it is harvested sustainably. The hydrogen isotopic composition of wood reflects the hydrogen isotopic signal of rainfall revealing where the tree was grown.

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Note: This blog post originally appeared on June 5, 2018, at the ANS Nuclear Café.

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Mexico Signs a 123 Agreement with U.S.

Nuclear-Power.jpgThe Federal government has sent to Congress a long awaited 123 Agreement with Mexico which, if approved, will open the door for U.S. firms to export nuclear reactor technologies to that country  under 10 CFR 810.  Once in place the agreement has a nominal shelf life of 30 years although it can be updated by either party.

Plans for new 1000 MW BWRs are in place, but no construction commitments are likely in the near term due to the low price of natural gas

The 123 Agreement replaces a previous multilateral agreement made through the IAEA. Congress has 90 days to review the new 123 agreement

Mexico has plans to commission new reactors, but has not settled on designs or vendors.

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,” Lipman said.

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

mexico reactorsAccording to the World Nuclear Association (right), Mexico has two nuclear reactors generating almost 4% of its electricity. Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1989.

WNA in its profile of Mexico’s plans for new reactors notes that high-level government support exists for an expansion of nuclear energy, primarily to reduce dependence on natural gas, but also to cut carbon emissions

Under the the most aggressive for several energy development scenarios developed by the government as far back as 2010 up to ten nuclear power plants would be built at Laguna Verde so that nuclear energy supplied nearly a quarter of Mexico’s power needs by 2028.

This plan would allow the country’s carbon emissions from power generation to remain virtually unchanged from 2008 despite projections of substantially higher demand. About 86% of Mexico’s electricity is currently generated by fossil fuels. Natural gas is the primary fuel for this purpose according to DOE/EIA.

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An earlier proposal was for one new nuclear unit to come on line by 2015 with seven more to follow it by 2025 to bring nuclear share of electricity up to 12%. Cost studies showed nuclear being competitive with gas at about US$ 4 cents/kWh in all scenarios considered.

The assumptions for these energy policy scenarios have been challenged by continued low prices for natural gas which has resulted in a scaling back of the most optimistic plans. The most plausible outlook is for two-to-three nuclear reactors at Laguna Verde with completion by the end of the 2020 decade.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, in a 2016 report, Mexico’s plans for full size new nuclear reactors focus on 1000 MW BWR type designs. It also assesses the market segments where U.S. firms would have the best opportunities to participate in these new builds.

Financing of even two 1000 MW reactors at an “overnight price” of $5000/Kw would cost Mexico $10 billion plus the cost of upgrading the national grid to deliver the power to customers.

Beyond that plan WNA also notes that Mexico may look to build more affordable small modular reactors to provide power and desalinate seawater for agricultural use. Because the desalinization plants need to be at coastal sites, and due to the cost of piping the water from them, it’s likely that Mexico would plan for multiple uses, e.g., industrial  and residential uses of potable water in addition to use for intensive agriculture.

Hydroponic greenhouse applications are often proposed for use with these plants since they use the water much more efficiently and avoid evaporation loss that would occur in open fields. For these reasons, locations for these plants would likely be near urbanized areas.

The reactors would also benefit from being at coastal sites to use seawater for the condensation loop for steam coming out of the power turbines. Finally, it would make sense to build at an existing power station site to take advantage of rail, roads, and the available labor force.

Expansion of cross border electrical power for California and other U.S. southwestern states has been discussed from time-to-time. Due to differences in the national grids, special equipment would be needed to move the power across the border in either direction. That said there are recurring discussions about tapping the Palo Verde power station in Arizona to send electricity to Mexico.

According to the DOE/EIA existing electrical interconnections between Mexico and the United States are relatively limited in capacity and are operationally constrained by nonsynchronous cross-border ties, except in the Southern California-Baja California region where new renewable energy projects are coming online and supplying power across the border,

Insofar as nuclear fuel is concerned, while Mexico has experimented with producing fuel from its own uranium deposits, at the current spot price for yellowcake, mining them would not be economically feasible.

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.

Postscript: The 123 agreement with Mexico was ready to go in summer 2016 under President Obama, but languished at the U.S. State Department during the tumultuous tenure of Sec Rex Tillerson who was so frustrated with the White House over being blindsided by Trump’s tweets that he once referred to the President as a “moron” and never explicitly denied saying so. Eight months later he resigned his post.

The current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the new 123 agreement and said in a visit to Arizona that it will provide new business opportunities for both countries.

“The signing of the U.S.-Mexico Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement further expands our relationship, and will benefit the North American and U.S. suppliers in the nuclear energy industry,” Pompeo said.

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NEI Focuses on Advanced Reactors at National Meeting

Advanced Reactors At DOE and DOE Federal Facilities

(NucNet): The US House of Representatives has asked the energy secretary to prepare a report on a pilot program for deploying advanced reactor technology at key government facilities. According to the NEI, the request was contained in an amendment to the National Defence Authorization Act of 2019, which was passed by the House on May 24, 2018 and will now go to the Senate.

The NEI said the amendment was “a powerful bipartisan message” to the nation about the utility and viability that innovative nuclear designs hold in the years ahead.

Maria Korsnick, NEI president and chief executive officer, said the promise of advanced reactors had taken an enormous step closer to becoming reality with bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to pursue the siting, construction and operation of an advanced reactor to provide resilient power to our country’s critical national security locations.

She said lawmakers identified the US Department of Defence and the US Department of Energy as government partners for small and micro-reactor technology.

“The next 10 years are a critical time for the US nuclear industry to begin moving to a wider range of reactor types, including small and advanced reactors. Luckily, the nation is blessed with a plethora of innovative talent, with dozens of technology developers, suppliers and the national laboratory system working hard to bring these cutting-edge designs to market.”

NEI Focuses on advanced nuclear technologies

(Daily Energy Insider) Emerging nuclear technologies like small modular reactors (SMR) and advanced nuclear reaction concepts highlighted the Nuclear Energy Institute’s 65th annual Nuclear Energy Assembly (NEA) that was held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The conference featured three panels that focused on uses for advanced nuclear technologies, new “beyond electricity capabilities” including process heat and deep decarbonization, and innovation reactor designs.

The Washington-based think tank Third Way outlined more than 40 companies and research institutions that are currently working on SMR and advanced nuclear reactor concepts. Dominion Energy announced that it’s investing in GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX-300 SMR design on the first day of the conference.

The economic viability of advanced reactor designs that feature fewer components and more simplistic systems that can be built cheaper and more quickly was also a topic of conversation.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently released a report on the feasibility of various designs. Tina Taylor, the senior director of research and development and chief nuclear officer at EPRI, said, “The good news is that a lot of these technologies are headed to the lower end of the cost spectrum,”

Kathryn McCarthy, the vice president for research and development at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), said producing hydrogen to decarbonize the transportation sector could be a potential revenue source for SMRs in Canada. That includes long-distance trucks and trains and the Toronto light rail system, she said.

TerraPower President Chris Levesque noted that the company’s Traveling Wave Reactor design is advancing from the research to the test phase with approvals from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission or China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration within site.   (See IEEE Spectrum article on the technology and reactor design)

The company’s also working on a molten chloride fast reactor concept with domestic and international partners.

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GE-Hitachi to Offer 300 MW SMR

geh hqDesign work is underway to downsize the 1500 MW ESBWR to a 300 MW model to be called the BWRX300.

As yet no date has been set for submitting it for design safety review at the NRC.

(Update 5/20/18) Dominion to provide funding for development of the BWRX300

GE-Hitachi (GEH) is focusing its design work on getting the cost of the reactor down from the levels associated with full size reactors like the ESBWR.  Using a global average of $5,000/KW, the 300 MW unit would cost $1.5 billion.  The company’s goal is to reduce the cost of the SMR to the point where it can compete with natural gas plants.

Representatives of the company, told a Wilmington, NC, newspaper in April, that it plans to eventually offer a 300 MW small modular reactor at a highly competitive price tag of $700M or $2250/Kw.  That price would be achieved once volume production was taking place a company representative said.

A presentation to a nuclear trade conference in April cited a cost of “60% lower than the ESBWR.”  A 1500 MW ESBWR unit at $5000/KW would cost would cost $7.5 billion. A 60% lower price would be $3 billion.

Given the distance between the promoted price of $700 million and “a 60% cost savings,” it may be that some clarification is needed by the firm on it statements about pricing. Also, it’s not possible to confirm that either the newspaper or the trade show reports got their numbers right.

According to a report by Nuclear Energy Insider, “NuScale has estimated an overnight capital cost of is 50 MW SMR at $5,078/kWe for its first plant and targets a Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) at around $65/MWh. This LCOE estimate takes into account DOE support funding, cost of capital associated with municipality customers, and tax support including production tax credits (PTCs).”

Using the NuScale number for a 300 MW reactor, the cost would come in at $1.52 billion. Some of this is an apples v. oranges comparison since the price differences need to take into account design factors such as steam generation equipment and size of the unit.  Nuclear Energy Insider did not report a LCOE for the GE-Hitachi unit.

eric loewen

Eric Loewen, GE-Hitachi

At the trade conference Eric Loewen, (right) speaking for GE Hitachi, said further price reductions for the BWRX300 would be possible once the firm had a large number of orders.

“Once you start having numbers greater than 10, then you have different conversations with your suppliers,” he said.

The last time any nuclear utility and vendor offered a price to build new nuclear power plants at a cost approaching that number was in 2007 when NRG promoted its twin ABWRs for the South Texas Project Units 3 & 4 at $2700/KW.  Even at that price NRG could not attract investors from Texas municipal power systems.

In particular, the City of San Antonio, TX, spooked by the prospects of cost overruns and resulting rate increases, walked away from a commitment to the project. In Austin, TX, the effort led by an anti-nuclear chief of the municipal electric utility, was the final blow to the project.

According to the presentation summary posted by Nuclear Energy Insider, cost savings factors for the GEH 300 MW SMR include the cooling system which will rely on natural circulation systems and passive safety systems. The light water reactor design would sit in an underground silo [containment] at a customer site.

GE Hitachi also is promoting a much smaller staffing profile for the 300 MW SMR. It told Nuclear Energy Insider that it would take just 75 people to run the reactor.  Using an industry average of 0.7 full time equivalent (FTE) per 1MW, a 300 MW unit would require 210 FTE.  A staff of 75 FTE would be a nearly two-thirds’ reduction in labor and related O&M costs.

So far the firm has not published a public facing web page with additional technical information about the 300 MW SMR. As for a licensing path forward, GEH says the work it has done on the ESBWR will facilitate it. Scaling a reactor up in size like Westinghouse did from 600 MW to the 1150 MW of the AP1000 meant that everything got bigger. In this case, everything will get smaller.  Components will change, and so will suppliers, with changes of this magnitude.

The GEH design at 300 MW is one of the largest announced as being under development in the U.S.  Previous efforts by other firms to develop SMRs of this size have included the BWXT mPower SMR which has a design that includes two 180 MW reactors at a single installation. After ending joint design and licensing effort with TVA,  BWXT briefly partnered with Bechtel to develop a US market, but it ended that deal in March 2017.

Westinghouse was at one time developing a 225 MW SMR but ended its efforts in early 2014 due to the lack of  customers in the U.S.  In September 2017 Westinghouse said it was working to develop its SMR for the UK market. The firm has a nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Lancanshire which would support this effort.

The 330 MW GEH PRISM is not considered to be an SMR both due to its size, and its specialized nature which is to burn surplus plutonium (PU-239).  GEH has been talking to the UK’s National Decommissioning Authority to develop an opportunity to use it there. In June 2017 GEH said it would seek an NRC Part 50 license for the PRISM reactor.

Other GE-Hitachi Work on SMRs

SMR-160 – Last February GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), Holtec International and SMR Inventec, LLC (SMR, LLC),  announced a collaboration to advance the development of the SMR-160, a single loop, 160 MWe pressurized light water reactor based on existing light water technologies. (Technical briefing – PDF file)

The cooperation will initially focus on nuclear fuel development supported by GNF and control rod drive mechanisms designed by GEH, and may later extend to other areas. Holtec plans to design, license, commercialize, deploy and service the SMR globally.

ARC-100 – In September 2017 GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) have signed an agreement for ARC to license technology from GEH’s Prism advanced reactor design as part of their joint effort to develop and deploy a sodium fast reactor in Canada.  The US-based companies said in a joint statement that GEH has also agreed to provide ARC access to nuclear infrastructure programs related to quality, safety culture, training, processes, procedures and tools.

In addition, GEH said it will make an “in-kind contribution” to ARC through its agreement to provide engineering and design expertise.

The companies previously announced in March 2017 that they would collaborate on the ARC-100 design with initial deployment in Canada. They have begun work on a preliminary regulatory review of the ARC-100 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

A joint GEH-ARC engineering team is working to advance the ARC-100 design. GEH and ARC have each developed advanced reactor designs based on the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype which was developed by Argonne National Laboratory and operated for more than 30 years at Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Update 5/20/18:   Dominion Provides Funding
For GEH Small Modular Reactor Project

(NucNet) GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH)  announced 5/20/18 that Dominion Energy will provide funding for the project to develop and commercialize the BWRX-300, a 300-MW small modular reactor design being developed by GEH.

GEH said Dominion Energy’s funding provides seed money for work that could lead to commercialising the BWRX-300. GEH did not say how much funding Dominion had agreed to provide.

“We believe that nuclear power has a vital role in ensuring a clean, reliable, and cost-effective supply of electricity to meet the needs of a growing economy,” said Dan Stoddard, Dominion Energy’s chief nuclear officer.

“We also believe the innovations GE Hitachi is pursuing with the BWRX-300 SMR have the potential to make it a strong competitor in the marketplace.

“Our view is that a modest investment now to support further development of this technology is in the interest of both companies.”

Dominion Energy said it has “no plan at this time” to build a BWRX-300 at any of its commercial nuclear stations. Dominion Energy operates a total of six nuclear units at the Millstone, North Anna and Surry nuclear stations. It has received a license from the NRC for the North Anna III unit, but has not moved forward with plans to build it. Significantly, the reference design for the COL is a full size GEH ESBWR.

GEH said the BWRX-300 makes use of the design and licensing basis of the ESBWR. (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor), which has been certified by the US regulator. GEH believes the BWRX-300 will require up to 60% less capital cost per MW when compared to other water-cooled SMRs or existing large nuclear designs.

Dominion’s move is the latest in a series of U.S. utilities signing on for the next generation of nuclear reactor designs.  UAMPS has made a commitment to be a customer for the FOAK NuScale 50 MW SMR.

Separately, Southern has inked a development agreement with X-Energy to develop a pebble bed HTGR. Southern also has a development agreement with GEH to work on the PRISM reactors design.

France Considers Developing
Small Modular Reactors

(Reuters) The French nuclear industry is considering developing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). In addition to achieving technical excellence, EDF-owned Framatome, formerly called Areva, told the wire service a key focus is on cost.  It is conducting design work on small 150-to-170-MW reactors with state nuclear agency CEA.

Reuters reported that Xavier Ursat, EDF’s head of new nuclear, said at an innovation seminar organized by French nuclear industry lobby SFEN, “In France we have always preferred big-capacity reactors … but we need to also consider smaller models.”

CEA head of nuclear energy François Gauché said the agency said the current design phase will address technical and financial feasibility of SMRs over the next 18 months.

small_modular_reactors_thumb

Philippe Knoche, chief executive of French nuclear fuel group Orano, said factory production – as opposed to construction on-site for big reactors – could lower the cost of SMRs, making them competitive if manufacturers built dozens.

This number, “dozens,” is much larger than some estimates that significant cost savings could be achieved after production of as few as 10 units.

Rolls-Royce, which is developing a SMR for sale in the UK and for export, has said the number of units needed could be as high as 40 which more or less matches the French estimate of “dozens.”

Jordan Expands the Search for a Suitable HTGR

After inking an agreement with X-Energy last November to look at the potential deployment of X-energy’s Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor in Jordan, that country has also opened talks with China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) to investigate the potential for a 210 MW HTGR which also uses a pebble bed design. Note that the power rating for the Chinese design has also been reported to be 220 MW and 250 MW.

According to a financial wire service report, the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) is holding talks with CNNC for a first of a kind unit that could cost $1 billion. If ground were to be broken next year, the agency said the power station could be in revenue service as early as 2025.

China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. (SNPTC) completed the installation of its high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) project in November 2017.  Work began in 2012.

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Concept Drawing of an High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor.  Image courtesy of World Nuclear Association

The reactor uses helium as a coolant instead of water. After the helium is heated to 750C (1,382F), it is sent to a steam generator where it heats water until it becomes high-temperature steam.

SNPTC’s design, which consists of two high-temperature reactor pebble-bed modules that drive a single turbine to produce 210 MW, is located in Shandong province. The units are expected to go into commercial operation this year.

According to the wire service report, Khaled Toukan, head of the JAEC, said the HTGR,  could also be used for water desalinization, for process heat, and would be abl to service oil refineries and related chemical industries.

In the water short country, nuclear reactors that use helium for cooling and heat transfer, would be at a competitive advantage over conventional PWRs. This may be another reason, in addition to costs, that Jordan has not moved forward with a plan to acquire two 1000 MW VVER from Rosatom.

In the Middle East so far all plans for HTGRs, in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are for coastal sites. Sea water in a third loop will be used to cool the secondary closed loop steam exhaust from the turbines to return the water to the steam generator. Also, with a co-located desalinization plant, the reactor can supply the fresh water for is own steam system.

In May 2017 Saudi Arabia and China held their first meeting to discuss the feasibility of constructing high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs).

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