India Inks Twin Reactor Deal with Rosatom for Kudankulam

  • Units 5 & 6 will be built as part of the same power station as the first four
  • Units 1 & 2 are commissioned and generating electricity.
  • Ground has been broken and first concrete will be poured for units 3 & 4 later this summer

Just two weeks after Indian PM Narendra Modi announced a massive program to build 10 700 MW PHWR nuclear reactors, he closed a deal this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin for two more 1000 MW VVER class nuclear reactors to be built at the Kudankulam site in Tamil Nadu.

Reuters reported that Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told reporters the Russian government was lending India $4.2 billion from next year for a 10-year period to help cover construction costs.

PWR v VVER

In addition to the reactors, the two sides are expected to ink 12 agreements in wide-ranging sectors, including science and technology, railways, cultural exchanges and other business areas between private parties.

Modi is also hoping that Putin will try to influence China to change its position on India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group which controls commerce in nuclear fuel. China has opposed India’s membership and has aligned itself with Pakistan.

As a practical matter, Rosatom will supply all the fuel for all the VVER reactors at Kudankulam and take back the spent fuel. India wants membership in the NSG to assure reliable uranium delivery for its expanding fleet of home baked units. An agreement with Australia will begin deliveries of uranium later this year.

Rosatom Sets Financing Package for Development of Fast Neutron Reactor

(WNN) Vneshekonombank and Rosatom signed a cooperation agreement that considers the Russian bank’s participation in the project to create an international research center based on the multi-purpose fast neutron reactor, or MBIR according to its Russian acronym.

The document was signed by VEB Chairman Sergey Gorkov and Rosatom Director-General Alexey Likhachov during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. According to a Rosatom statement, VEB and Rosatom will “study various instruments, including consultancy, financial, insurance and warranty support, to work out funding of the project”

New PBMR Design to Be Released

(WNN) Eskom will publish a new pebble bed modular reactor concept design in a leading journal within the next few months, the South African utility’s chief nuclear officer David Nicholls said last week.

Nicholls, who presented a concept design at the African Utility Week conference in Capetown, said the design looked to be simpler and cheaper than earlier versions, according to Engineering News Online. Nicholls said a test reactor might be built “over the next years” but a commercial reactor was not expected until the 2030s.

UAE Receives Fuel Assemblies For Barakah-1

(NucNet): The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) has received the fuel assemblies for Unit 1 of the Barakah nuclear station. The fuel assemblies are being securely stored in Barakah until the regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), approves the operating licence for Units 1 and 2.

The fuel assemblies were produced by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), which is providing four APR-1400 units for Barakah, west of Abu Dabhi on the Persian Gulf coast.

Construction of Barakah-1 began in 2012 and it is now more than 95% complete. All four units are now 80% complete. Once the four reactors are online, the facility will deliver up to a quarter of the UAE’s electricity needs.

Enec said commercial operation of Barakah-1 had been put back from 2017 to 2018. Enec said the delay was to ensure sufficient time for international assessments and adherence to nuclear industry safety standards, and “as a reinforcement of operational proficiency for plant personnel”

Part of the problem is that the reactor in South Korea that was intended to be used to train operators of the UAE units has been out of service due to problems with its electrical cables.

Romania Commissions Study Into Contract For Difference For Cernavoda-3 And -4

(NucNet): The Romanian energy ministry has commissioned a study into the feasibility of using a contract for difference (CfD) to finance the construction of the planned Cernavoda-3 and -4 nuclear reactor units, according to media reports.

The reports said the study is scheduled for completion in November 2017 and will focus on the potential for financing all types of low-carbon electricity generation projects, not just nuclear, by way of CfD schemes. It was also reported that the study will look into establishing a method to determine the reference prices for each type of low-carbon technology.

In 2013, the UK government approved a CfD scheme to support the financing of two new EPR units to be built at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, England. Under a CfD scheme, the government pays an electricity producer the difference between a fixed ‘strike price’ and an average market price for electricity throughout the lifetime of the agreement.

In November 2015, Romanian state-owned nuclear operator Nuclearelectrica and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) had signed an agreement on the development, construction, operation and eventual decommissioning of Cernavoda-3 and -4, both of the Candu 6 design.

Negotiations on the details of an investors’ agreement between the Romanian government and CGN began, but recent reports said the Chinese side had insisted on receiving state guarantees on future electricity purchase prices for the project.

NRC to Issue New Reactor License to Dominion for North Anna Site

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized the issuance of a Combined License (COL) for Dominion Virginia Power’s North Anna site in Virginia. The license grants Dominion permission to build and operate a 1600 MW Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) design at the site, near Mineral, VA.

It is the second license issued for construction of an ESBWR the first being to DTE in Michigan for FERI III. The NRC certified the 1,600-megawatt ESBWR design following a Commission vote in September 2014.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that given the enormous cost of the Dominion project, which has been opposed by both consumer and environmental groups and has yet to be approved by the State Corporation Commission, it remains unclear whether the utility will actually ever build the reactor.

“Basically, having a combined operating license allows us the ability to build and operate a new unit at such time as makes business sense,” said Richard Zuercher, a Dominion spokesman.

“Nuclear energy is important to Virginia and our customers because it provides significant amounts of affordable base-load electricity with virtually no carbon dioxide emissions,” said Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion’s chairman, president and CEO.

“It is the largest form of carbon-free, base-load electricity on our system. We will continue to evaluate developments over the coming months as we determine next steps related to the timing of North Anna 3.”

Dominion has spent roughly $600 million to date on planning, engineering and developing the 1,600-megawatt General Electric-Hitachi-designed reactor. Actually building the reactor is estimated to cost about $19 billion. This works out to an “over night cost of $11,800/Kw.

The newspaper pointed out that about 40 percent of Virginia’s electricity comes from Dominion’s nuclear reactors at North Anna and Surry, and the company plans to seek approval to extend the licenses of those power plants. The two North Anna plants that are in revenue service provide 1700 MW of power and were completed in 1978 and 1980.

It is unlikely that neither North Anna 3 nor Fermi III will be built until natural gas prices move north of $6 MBTU and show clear evidence of staying there.  Electricity demand in the U.S. is flat as the nation is still in a slow recovery from the great recession of 2008. Labor rate participation continues to drop according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics which puts reports of low unemployment in that context. It is a key indicator of the overall level of business activity in the U.S.

NRC conditions for the license

The Commission authorized the agency’s Office of New Reactors to issue the license following a hearing on March 23. The license contains conditions, including:

  • Specific actions associated with the agency’s post-Fukushima requirements for Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation;
  • A pre-startup schedule for post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactor’s emergency preparedness plans and procedures.

The process of applying for and reviewing the license was quite slow. Dominion submitted the North Anna application for an ESBWR adjacent to the company’s two existing reactors to NRC on Nov. 26, 2007.

The NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards independently reviewed aspects of the application that concern safety, as well as the staff’s final safety evaluation report. The committee provided the results of its review to the Commission on Nov. 15, 2016. The NRC completed its environmental review and published the final impact statement for the proposed reactor in February 2010.

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Rescue Missions Continue for Vogtle & V C Summer Projects

  • rescueBechtel, Fluor, are reported to be preparing bids to manage the stranded Vogtle nuclear reactor project.
  • Scana is also seeking a new EPC for the V C Summer project.
  • The combined cost overruns are estimated to be $13 billion and the delays for both projects are in the range of three years from the original completion dates.
  • The expected cost at completion of both projects is now estimated to be about $30 billion. More than 10,000 workers are employed at these sites.

In a widely cited report, the Bloomberg wire service describes efforts by two of the nation’s largest EPC firms to prepare bids to potentially take over the construction of the two partially complete Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 nuclear reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia. Bechtel and Fluor are working on estimates of the cost, and the time, it will take to complete the two reactors.

The bids will be high risk efforts for both firms as the Vogtle project is already significantly over budget and delayed by several years to consternation of Southern Nuclear.  Westinghouse, which was managing the project, and its main supplier, has declared bankruptcy and is expected to be sold for a fraction of its original value later this year by Toshiba, its parent firm, which is also embroiled in deep financial troubles.

Neither Toshiba nor Westinghouse have been able to present an audited set of financial reports that will give creditors and customers a clear idea where things stand. Westinghouse has told the news media it is facing over $6 billion in losses due to cost overruns at the Vogtle and Scana sites.

Profiles of EPC Bidders

bechtel logoBechtel, which is a closely held engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firm, is reported by Bloomberg to plan to have its bid ready by August.

fluor_nyse_exterior_1000x667Separately, Fluor, which is publically traded, is already managing the Vogtle project on behalf of Westinghouse, is also preparing its own estimate. Fluor is already working at the Voglte site as the EPC having been hired by Westinghouse for this role.

Both firms are giants in their fields. Engineering News Record (ENR) ranked Bechtel as the Top US Contractor in 2017 and the Top US Contractor Working Abroad in their annual Top 400 US Contractors list.  The trade magazine similarly ranks Fluor as being among the global top ranked firms for EPC work.

Fluor is also a major investor in NuScale which is developing a small modular reactor design (SMR) that has been submitted to the NRC for design review. Bechtel at one time was partnered with B&W for development of an SMR, but that agreement ended without booking a customer.

Timing of Bid Proposals and CEO Decisions

The August timeframe for submitting the bids to cover work at Vogtle is not particularly welcome news for Southern CEO Tom Fanning who said at a shareholders’ meeting last week that the current interim agreement with Westinghouse expires on June 3rd. An extension is likely while the two EPC firms prepare their proposals. Fanning indicated that he wants to see them before making a recommendation to his board whether to continue the project or scrap it.

The fate of the Vogtle project in Georgia is tied to that of Scana’s V C Summer project in South Carolina. Southern’s agreement in principle to take over the Vogtle project from Westinghouse hinges on whether Scana, the utility that is leading the Summer project, decides to complete the two AP1000 reactors there.

In addition to the two U.S. EPC firms, Scana told Bloomberg that it may also consider a bid from Areva. Scana has said it will decide by June 26th whether to continue the project which is well before any bid would be received from any potential EPC firm.

Westinghouse has said that it wants to help both utilities complete their reactors. To do this any arrangement with a new EPC would have to continue to use the firm for design and engineering, as well as procurement of some components, while the new EPC firm would handle the actual construction work and procurement of non-nuclear components including turbines, switchgear, and other equipment.

Regardless of which EPC firm gets the work, assuming both utilities decide it is in their interests to finish the projects, the state public utility commissions in both states have to approve the plans. Ratepayers, already riled by the huge cost overruns, are likely to closely follow these reviews.

One of the issues the regulators will have to assess is whether Toshiba;, the parent firm of Westinghouse, will fulfill its commitment to settle with both utilities for several billions for each of the projects. The problem is that promising and paying up are two different things.

On May 15 Toshiba inked an agreement with Southern for $3.68 billion to be paid over several years. According to news media reports, Toshiba has also promised to pay Scana $1.7 billion to finish the two reactors there. Both payment commitments are contingent on both utilities agreeing to finish all four reactors.

Scana Seeks Federal Tax Credits

A decision by Scana and its partner investor Santee Cooper to complete the two reactors at the V C Summer site may hinge on whether the utilities can convince Congress to grant the companies more than $2.2 billion in federal tax credits. A similar level of support would also likely be included in any legislation for the Vogtle project.

An effort to include the tax credit in the omnibus funding legislation that passed Congress and was signed by the president on May 5th did not include the tax credits. Chances are now diminished that a free standing bill, sponsored by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Rep. Tom Rice, will gain traction.

Their chances might improve if they can get votes from other states that may see new reactors built. Examples include;

  • Florida which may yet see plans for two new AP1000s at Turkey Point,
  • Virginia which may see a new reactor built at North Ana, and
  • Michigan which may see a new reactor built at Fermi.
  • A long shot might be Tennessee which is home to the effort by a real estate developer to complete one or both of the TVA’s partially complete Bellefonte units.
  • Another long shot is that North Carolina might come onboard in relation to Duke’s plans for two AP1000 reactors to be built at the Lee site in South Carolina. The plant’s service area covers parts of North Carolina.

One possibility, which doesn’t produce nearly the same economic benefit of $2 billion, would be to get federal tax credits for buying major components for the reactors from American firms.

All of these projects are far in the future, and some might never break ground. In effect the majority of the tax credits might never be used.

What this means for the legislation is that it will be seen as a bailout for the four reactors that are under construction. With no policy commitment by Congress to promote nuclear energy as a path to decarbonization, and a president who is hostile to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the chances of passing the federal tax relief are problematic at best.

In any case the timing of action by Congress is also much further in the future than the decision time line for the CEOs are both Vogtle and Scana to make up their minds whether to keep going to complete the reactors or scrap them. If they kill the nuclear projects the utilities will likely build gas plants to meet the demand for electricity that would have been covered by the reactors.

The nearest window of opportunity to try again fore for the nuclear energy tax credits on future revenues will be tax reform legislation expected to be introduced this Fall, but which isn’t likely to pass in this session.

North Carolina Presses Duke on Lee

(Nuclear Street) The Westinghouse Electric Company bankruptcy filing has provoked concern over a “construction work in progress” (CWIP) in North Carolina, namely the Lee Nuclear Station that has been proposed by Duke Energy.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) has given Duke 60 days to respond to a boatload of questions on the project for which Duke has already spent an estimated $531 million, according to a filing with state regulators in South Carolina.

Of that $531 million, Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) estimates it has spent 70 percent or more than $370 million on the project in North Carolina, while spending 30 percent in South Carolina. As of 2011, Duke was authorized by NCUC to spend $120 million in North Carolina.

The Charlotte Business Journal reports that the regulator now wants to know why the company has exceeded that limit by $250 million and how it plans to recoup that money,

The utility commission also wants an estimate on what delays might result from the Toshiba’s financial situation and what new costs might be involved. Toshiba’s problems have rattled the global nuclear industry and degraded trust in promises for all future new nuclear builds.

The last Duke cost estimate for the project made public was $11 billion, which it estimated in 2008. That has likely gone up. With interest, the Charlotte Business Journal estimates that the cost of the Lee Nuclear Station is currently at $14 billion.

Westinghouse CEO Predicts Firm Will Emerge from Chap 11 Bankruptcy

(NucNet): Westinghouse Electric Company is “very stable” and will emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy “quickly, better, stronger and more competitive”, interim president and chief executive officer José Gutiérrez told the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Arizona on 24 May 2017.

The firm received court approval for an $800 million loan from a private equity firm for its business units that are not directly involved in the Vogtle and V C Summer projects.

Gutiérrez added that the problems that led to the Chapter 11 filing have nothing to do with the AP1000 technology and that the four AP1000 reactors being built in China are proceeding well.

Construction of the four AP1000 reactors being built in the U.S. have experienced catastrophic cost overruns and have been haunted by recurring schedule delays which forced Westinghouse into its Chapter 11 filing.

Many of the problems have to do with the way Westinghouse managed its suppliers including the acquisition of CB&I. That deal is now subject to claims and counterclaims about how excessive costs are to be valued as part of that transaction. More than $2 billion is at stake.

Reuters reported May 15th that Westinghouse said last year CB&I owed it $2 billion. CB&I, on the other hand, estimated it was owed $428 million and in July sued Westinghouse, which is majority owned by Toshiba Corp of Japan (6502.T). CB&I argued Westinghouse was improperly lowering the purchase price by citing liabilities that were disclosed when the deal was agreed

Gutiérrez said the company is working with its customers – Southern Nuclear and SCANA Corporation – to devise a solution to enable completion of the reactors.

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NEI’s Korsnick Rolls Out a New Nuclear Advocacy Effort

  • CEO Maria Korsnick calls for recognition of nuclear as strategic national imperative.
  • To succeed she will need to do more than just turn up the gain on NEI’s public relations output.
maria korsnick

NEI CEO Maria Korsnick

Addressing the Nuclear Energy Assembly for the first time as the head of the industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Korsnick opened its 64th annual conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week by unveiling an initiative to reach out more widely to supporters of nuclear energy.

“To ensure that nuclear energy keeps working for America, the industry has developed a national strategy to communicate nuclear energy’s benefits more aggressively, more widely and more consistently than we ever have before,” Korsnick said.

“We have stepped up our advocacy efforts not just a notch or two, but by a great margin.”

Called the National Nuclear Energy Strategy, the program will work to strengthen existing relationships and build new coalitions among supporters of nuclear energy’s different attributes.

However, in her remarks Korsnick didn’t get into specifics about who would be part of these coalitions or how they would be more effective than NEI’s current advocacy model. For instance, will NEI now work more closely with groups like the Third Way, a DC think tank that has been an advocate for development of advanced nuclear reactors or with the National Conference of State Legislatures which is working to keep nuclear energy in the mix?

Given that Korsnick’s remarks were tailored as a keynote address to a large conference, some details may be forthcoming. In the meantime, expectations for results come with questions.

Big Changes Ahead?

nei logoThis new strategy could be a big change for NEI which has for the most part operated as traditional inside the beltway trade group for its members. The organization’s advocacy and public relations efforts have focused on congressional legislation and federal budgets as well as regulatory matters with the NRC.

As a DC based trade group NEI’s public relations operation routinely engages with the big guns of the print and  electronic mainstream media directly and through surrogate organizations like Nuclear Matters.  NEI has a social media operation with presences on the major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and others . soc media buttons

NEI’s advocacy outside the beltway has sometimes been muted because its member utilities don’t just deal with nuclear energy. For instance, Southern and Scana, which are building new nuclear reactors in Georgia and South Carolina respectively, also have natural gas plants and got into the business with coal-fired boilers.  Dominion, which closed a reactor in Wisconsin, is also a major, multi-state supplier of natural gas to industrial and residential customers.

To be fair, one of the problems nuclear energy has always had is that it isn’t immediately visible to consumers. Most people have no idea where the electricity comes from that lights their homes, heats and cools them, and runs their TVs and all those Internet connected devices.

turtleAnother way this could be a big change is that the head of the industry trade group seems to be telling the group’s members that if they want to survive, their days of heads inside turtle shells, and just talking to regulators and public service commissions, need to be a thing of the past.  A lot more talking needs to take place and to people and in places where it hasn’t been done before.

Getting Beyond Public Relations

So what’s a nuclear trade group to do? Here are some friendly suggestions. First and foremost it should move beyond the usual tools of advocacy involving public relations, social media. and talking heads on TV. Maybe it is already doing some of these things, but it never hurts to ask.

If NEI wants to find new ways to be effective as an advocate for the industry, it should consider getting hands-on in terms of creating opportunities for innovation in several key areas. The reason is that to succeed, the nuclear industry must not only have a positive voice relative to the competition, it must also outsmart it in terms of the way it operates.

These ideas (below) go beyond some of the options discussed in the Breakthrough Institute’s excellent recent paper “How to Make Nuclear Innovative.” Assuming NEI has read the paper, and finds it valuable, here are some ideas that take it as a given and offer some additional perspectives.

Business Models – Work to create new markets beyond electricity generation for affordable small modular reactors, advanced nuclear technologies, and hybrid power systems composed of nuclear as a baseload source for keeping the grid stable while enabling renewable power technologies such as solar and wind.

It should be obvious by now given the work of the Third Way, Breakthrough, and others, that there is a need to develop public/private partnerships with government agencies, labs, private firms, and non-profit R&D centers.

They are the key to building test facilities, offering shared access to advanced computing capabilities, and support for development of advanced materials and new types of nuclear fuels. This includes real commitments of R&D money for national labs, start-up money for entrepreneurs, and outreach to private equity investors once projects reach desirable levels of maturity.

Financing – The ability of utilities to assemble the capital needed to build new nuclear reactors will need more support from federal government load guarantees, perhaps through a nuclear energy investment bank. In terms of boosting investor confidence, this kind of support is going to be essential to overcome the caution lights that are flashing as a result of the Westinghouse bankruptcy.

Project Management – Apply lessons learned from nuclear and other energy related capital infrastructure projects. Get technical and regulatory requirements right before breaking ground. Educate the supply chain about these changes in the way new reactors are built to avoid the kinds of cost over runs and schedule delays that have created king size headaches for Southern and Scana.

Supply Chain Management – Develop a robust program with workshops and resource materials to help firms develop the capability to meet nuclear quality requirements. Firms face a chicken and egg dilemma of not wanting to develop these kinds of production capabilities without orders in hand. If the supply chain isn’t ready when the call goes out for SMRs, foreign firms will fill the gap. Finally, get more suppliers in the middle market involved in nuclear advocacy issues either directly, or though a surrogate group.

On a technical note NEI could step out to help develop  ecosystems of innovation among nuclear suppliers to boost productivity and reliable delivery of components to utilities.  These same principles can be applied within nuclear plants to address operations and maintenance. This would be an entirely new hands-on role for NEI since it would be directly boost the capabilities of the firms in the supply chain to meet the needs of the industry and, of equal importance, to promote exports to global markets.

& & &

And Korsnick is already somewhat onboard with some of these ideas. In her remarks she called for a “robust” export program in nuclear technologies and services that would help to support US interests abroad.

“Countries like Russia and China recognize the strategic value of providing nuclear energy technology to other countries. All US policymakers may not yet see the connection between America’s safety and security and its commercial nuclear energy program, but we are changing that.”

She also called on the audience and the industry at large to begin participating in these conversations and to act as advocates on behalf of nuclear energy.

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India Sets Course for Nuclear Energy with New Build of Ten 700 MW PHWR; Emphasis is on Domestic Suppliers

  • India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved construction of 10 700 MW PHWR reactors in what is being called “a big boost” for his “Make in India” program of local sourcing of the supply chain.
  • With almost a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion population lacking access to reliable electrical power, the government’s actions will add almost 8 GW of nuclear power to the grid.
  • The program will require a massive infusion of people and funding for NPCIL, the state-owned nuclear energy utility. It is estimated to cost over $11 billion and is expected to create over 33,000 jobs.
  • It’s clear the government has lost patience not only with cost overruns and schedule delays by western reactor vendors for their own projects, but also with self-initiated domestic stumbling blocks including a brazenly stupid supplier liability law, entrenched bureaucracy hindering approval of new projects, and a lack of funding to build them.

Indian-PHWR-Schematic-Layout-Diagram

Until now India sourced its PWR reactors from Russia which built and commissioned two 1000 MW VVER units at Kudankulam and has broken ground for two more. India and Russia are close to inking final terms and conditions for a 5th & 6th unit at the site in Tamil Nadu on India’s southern most coastal site.

The Indian government dithered for over six years with western nuclear reactor suppliers. Protracted negotiations with Westinghouse and Areva, which began almost a decade ago, have not resulted in projects breaking grounds with either vendor.

The government is keenly aware of massive cost over runs for Areva reactors under construction in Finland and France as well as problems with the financial collapse of Toshiba/Westinghouse.

Plans to build six EPR 1650 MW PWR type reactors at Jaitapur on India’s west coast have been clouded by cost overruns and schedule delays for EPRs under construction in Finland and France.

Plans to build six Westinghouse AP1000 1150 MW PWR type reactors on India’s west coast in Andhra Pradesh have recently crashed on the rocks of the bankruptcy filing in March and financial turmoil Japan’s Toshiba, its parent firm. Cost overruns and schedule delays in construction of four AP1000s in the U.S. have also served as caution lights for India’s energy policy makers.

Effects of Supplier Liability Law

But both Westinghouse and Areva also balked at committing to their respective projects because of the draconian supplier liability law enacted by PM Modi’s BJP parties.  The law hindered western firms from entering the Indian market and it crippled the domestic nuclear industry.

As part of the announcement this week to build 10 new PHWR reactors, which use natural uranium, India’s government also reclassified Indian heavy industry firms as “vendors” thus exempting them from the supplier liability law. The law, which was pushed by India’s coal mining interests, was passed under the guise of seeking to prevent another Bhopal industrial disaster. Another element of support for the law was a desire for preservation of the country’s “nonaligned” status which favored use of an indigenous design.

Role for India’s Heavy Industry

This move to exempt domestic industry opens the way for India to develop a domestic supply chain of large long lead time components such as steam generators, pumps, and turbines. Unlike PWR reactors, PHWRs, based on AECL’s CANDU technology, do not need the same kind of large forgings for reactor pressure vessels. The ten new reactor units are expected to produce manufacturing orders worth over $11 billion and produce over 33,000 jobs in India.

The government believes that by relying on domestic manufacturing firms that it can produce economies of scale for all 10 reactors. Indian heavy industry firms such as Larsen & Toubro, Kirloskar Brothers, and Godrej & Boyce issued statements to the India news media welcoming the announcement.  (See this slide deck for a presentation on L&T’s heavy industry capabilities, and certifications, to build PHWRs)

In 2017 the first supplies of uranium from Australia will arrive in India. Since the PHWR CANDU type reactors don’t require enriched uranium, the fuel for them will be readily available.

cna candu

Schematic of a CANDU reactor: Image credit via Canadian Nuclear Association.

Challenges Ahead

The major challenges for the huge program include;

  • Funding the projects at about $1 billion each and placing orders for long lead time components.
  • The government must provide a detailed roadmap to industry to set the wheels in motion. Industry may be wary of promises of orders for  manufacturing of components.
  • Streamlining the project approval process within NPCIL and for the government as a whole.
  • Ramping up its safety and regulatory oversight functions to cover 10 new reactors during their construction and commissioning periods and once they are in revenue service.
  • Training and deploying a construction workforce as well as future operators the plants

The 10 reactors are expected to be built at The 10 reactors will be installed in Kaiga in Karnataka (Unit 5 and 6), Chutka in Madhya Pradesh (Unit 1 and 2), Gorakhpur in Haryana (Unit 3 and 4) and Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan (Unit 1, 2, 3 and 4).

Note that many of these reactor projects have been in the planning stages for years, and the BJP party actually opposed their development when the party was out of power.

Future Domestic Reactor Designs

Separately, the Hindu reported on May 19th that reactor designers at Bhabha Atomic Research Center, working with NPCIL, have completed a design for a 900 MW PWR type reactor that uses enriched uranium fuel (3-5% U235). In 2015 the IAEA posted a slide deck with the technical details of the planned 900 MW PWR type reactors.

Overall, the Hindu reports the government’s longer term plans are to build 28 of these reactors with a total capacity of 25 GW over the next 15 years.

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Vogtle and V C Summer Seek 2nd Chances to Finish Reactors

  • 2nd chanceA new service agreement at the Vogtle site will remove Westinghouse as the EPC and slot the firm as a vendor. The utility is paying Fluor, a separate EPC, for ongoing work.
  • At SCANA the utility extended the interim agreement with Westinghouse to June 26 and retained Fluor as its EPC. The utility still may cancel the twin reactor construction project if Westinghouse / Toshiba does not make good on its commitments to cover multi-billion dollar cost overruns.
  • New cost estimates will be needed for completion of both projects and the public utility commissions in both Georgia and South Carolina will have to review and approve them for the projects to go to completion.
  • The stakes are enormous with four Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000 reactors under construction – two in Georgia and two in South Carolina. While interim arrangements take the projects at both sites to the end of June, long-term commitments still depend on complex financial arrangements that have yet to be negotiated between the utilities and Westinghouse and Toshiba.

Update May 15, 2017

Power plant owners limit Toshiba’s Westinghouse liabilities

(Reuters) The owners of the unfinished Vogtle power plant in Georgia led by Southern Co has agreed to cap Toshiba Corp’s responsibility for its guarantees on the much-delayed nuclear project at $3.6 billion.

The agreement pegs Toshiba’s guarantees for the unfinished Vogtle plant at about $3.6 billion, payable over at least three years, but the deal was not yet final.

The deal is also contingent on the owners of the incomplete V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina, including utility company SCANA Corp coming to a similar agreement with Toshiba.

It is more cost-effective for both the Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear power plants to be completed together. Southern is assessing the cost to complete the twin reactor project in Georgia and Scana is considering scrapping its reactor effort in South Carolina and building a natural gas plant instead.

Voglte Sets New Service Agreement with Westinghouse

Georgia Power and Westinghouse have, in principle, reached a new service agreement which allows for the transition of project management from Westinghouse to Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power once the current engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract is rejected in Westinghouse’s bankruptcy proceeding.

The interim assessment agreement will remain in place until June 3 while the new service agreement is final and all court-related approvals are obtained. During this time, work will continue at the site and a transition of project management will begin. As previously stated, the company will take all actions necessary to hold Westinghouse and Toshiba accountable for their financial obligations.

Georgia Power said in a statement it will continue work to complete its full-scale schedule and cost-to-complete analysis and work with the project Co-owners (Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities) and the Georgia Public Service Commission to determine the best path forward for customers.

Westinghouse Bankruptcy Throws Fate of Reactors into Question

(Bloomberg) What this means is that Southern Co. has agreed to take the lead on building two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle power plant in Georgia from bankrupt contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. as soon as next month.

According to news media reports Southern said in a statement that an interim contract and service agreement with Westinghouse will be in place on June 3.

This is good news because the looming bankruptcy of Toshiba, the parent firm of Westinghouse, scrambled the plans for completion of the two reactors at Southern’s Vogtle plant and another two being built at Scana Corp.’s V.C. Summer station in South Carolina.

Southern CEO Thomas Fanning told the media his company could take over the work at Vogtle if Toshiba provides $3.7 billion to finish it as promised. The deal is said to also depend in part on Scana agreeing to follow suit, so the two companies will be able to share resources.

The Westinghouse’s bankruptcy has moved slowly with Westinghouse recently asking for a two-week delay until May 26 to file a full schedule of its assets and debts.

The key reason is that Toshiba has not yet filed an audited financial statement. The problem for Westinghouse is that without an audited financial statement from the parent firm, it cannot value its assets and liabilities nor come to terms with creditors.

Reports of  Expected Toshiba bankruptcy Raises New Doubts About SCANA

(The Post and Courier) The utilities building new reactors at the V C Summer site aren’t saying what impact a potential Toshiba Corp. bankruptcy filing could have on the troubled construction project, even as more questions are being raised about the Japanese conglomerate’s financial health.

“We haven’t been informed about a Toshiba bankruptcy filing, and we won’t speculate about one,” Rhonda O’Banion, spokeswoman for South Carolina Electric & Gas parent SCANA Corp., said this week.

Toshiba’s business partners told The Wall Street Journal that they are anxious about a bankruptcy filing that could wipe out many of the Japanese firm’s commitments, including a guarantee to pay up to $1.7 billion in cost overruns at the V.C. Summer project.

Toshiba pledged to make those payments after its Westinghouse Electric subsidiary, the South Carolina power plant’s main contractor, filed for bankruptcy reorganization in March. The guarantee plays a key role in whether V.C. Summer partners SCANA and Santee Cooper finish the $14 billion project, which is already over budget and behind schedule.

SCANA Corp., Santee Cooper Extend Agreement on Summer Nuclear Station

(Palmetto Business Daily) SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper have amended the Interim Assessment Agreement with Westinghouse concerning the construction project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.  The main focus of the amendment was to extend the agreement through June 26.

This will allow for evaluations about the financial viability of the project, where South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. (SCE&G), principal subsidiary of SCANA, and V.C. Summer Nuclear Station project co-owner, Santee Cooper, can continue to make progress on the site. Additionally, Fluor will remain the project’s EPC.

The utilities must make a decision by June 26 whether to build one or both of the reactors or scrap the plan entirely. Santee Cooper’s board of directors met in a private session this week to get legal advice on the project but took no action.

If construction of the reactors is scrapped, SCANA officials have said the company would have to build a new facility powered by natural gas to meet its customers’ projected electricity demands.

Westinghouse To Complete Restructuring Plan By End Of June

(NucNet): Westinghouse plans to complete a restructuring plan by the end of June 2017 and a new business plan by the end of July 2017, the company’s interim president and CEO José Emeterio Gutiérrez said this week. He said the business plan, covering the next five years, will include implementation of the restructuring plan.

Mr Gutiérrez confirmed Westinghouse had received external financing of $800m (€730m) to protect the company’s core business during its reorganization.

“We are 100% sure that this will be sufficient to support the company throughout the bankruptcy proceedings”.

He said: “An important detail is that all the other company divisions are in good shape, continue to generate income and cash flow. That’s why we are convinced that the finances and the profit generated by the other companies, plus the $800m, will be enough while the bankruptcy claim is being reviewed.”

These funds are for operating divisions, like nuclear fuel, and cannot be used for the huge reactor projects in Georgia and South Carolina.

Westinghouse, the US-based nuclear unit of Japan’s Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in March 2017. Asked what had triggered the need to start bankruptcy proceedings Mr Gutiérrez said the problem was cost overruns for reactor construction in the US.

“By late 2016 we realized that the additional cost of completing the construction would be around $6.1bn. This means that the results of the fiscal year, which ended on 31 March, will show significant losses.”

South Africa to Sign New Nuclear Power Pacts After Court Ruling

(Reuters) South Africa plans to sign new, more transparent nuclear power agreements with five foreign countries after a high court blocked a deal with Russia due to a lack of oversight, the energy ministry said.

South Africa signed intergovernmental agreements with Russia, France, China, South Korea and the United States in 2014 as part of plans to build a fleet of nuclear power plants at a cost of between $30 billion and $70 billion.

Many investors view the scale of the nuclear plan as unaffordable and a major risk to South Africa’s financial stability, while opponents of President Jacob Zuma say the deal will be used as a conduit for corruption. Zuma denies allegations of wrongdoing.

The Western Cape High Court found last month that the agreement with Russia lacked transparency and offered Moscow favorable tax rules while placing heavy financial obligations on South Africa.

The energy ministry said it had “major concerns” about the court judgment but would not appeal the ruling. It will continue with nuclear energy plans adhering to stricter procedural guidelines, including consulting parliament.

“There is no intention to table the current agreements but (we) will embark to sign new agreements with all five countries and table them within reasonable time to parliament,” the ministry said in a statement.

Eskom on Friday reinstated its former chief executive Brian Molefe, a Zuma ally who has supported the nuclear power plan.

Molefe stepped down five months ago after being implicated in a report by the country’s anti-graft watchdog into alleged influence-peddling. He denied any wrongdoing.

His reappointment set off a new round of protests that he could not be trusted to run a transparent and fair procurement process.

Some analysts say former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was fired partly because he resisted pressures from a political faction allied to Zuma to back nuclear expansion.

New Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has said nuclear expansion will only be pursued if it is affordable.

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All Good Ideas to Expand Nuclear Energy Deserve Attention

Getting the policy commitments from government and money from investors to make them a reality is an entirely different matter.

good ideasThere is no shortage of good ideas for improving the prospects of conventional light water reactors, small modular reactors using similar technologies, and advanced reactors which have multiple technological roadmaps.

The problem is that all of them are contending for investor funding, government R&D support, and licensing reform.

The cruel fact of the matter is that no reactor vendor is going to get an order for one of their units from a utility unless they can prove the design is safe and can be operated at a profit. Success factors also include having a reliable supply chain that can meet NQA-1 standards, a skilled workforce to build the units,  a common sense and cost sensitive regulatory environment, and trained operators to run the reactors once built.

One of the reasons the Westinghouse projects in Georgia and South Carolina are in so much trouble is that after 30 years of benign neglect by the Department of Energy, none of these success factors were in place when the projects broke ground. How many undergraduate engineering students are going to switch out of the nuclear field after learning about the financial disaster visited on these projects by mismanagement at Toshiba and Westinghouse?

There are multiple reasons for the decades  of neglect of the nuclear industry, but two of them are that the green wing of the Democratic party favors solar and wind power due to their “lifestyle” appeal to voters and the Republican party, which has long since been captured by the oil and gas industry, sees nuclear energy as a competitive threat.

However, now we are faced with scientific evidence that the earth is warming caused by increased CO2 emissions from fossil energy fuel combustion processes. To “decarbonize” the various energy using sectors of our economy will require a renewed commitment to nuclear energy. It makes no sense to put electric cars on the road if their power comes from coal-fired power plants.

The executive branch of the federal government is ill-prepared for this challenge with the Department of Energy headed by former Texas Governor Rick Perry who famously said he wanted to eliminate DOE in a 2011 presidential debate but couldn’t remember its name.  Unlike other recent secretaries of energy with PhDs, like Steven Chu, who held a Nobel Prize in physics, and Ernest Moniz, who led MIT nuclear energy programs, Perry has an undergraduate degree in animal husbandry.

Perry’s campaign position is consistent with the ‘search & destroy’ profiles of other Trump cabinet appointments like Scott Pruitt at EPA who has made no bones about his plans to tear the agency apart. At Interior Ryan Zinke has made clear he intends to promote coal mining and natural gas drilling in direct contradiction of things like national park boundaries. Finally, many key posts at DOE remain unfilled by Perry.

Taken together it is difficult if not impossible to see any hope of clarity regarding nuclear energy from the executive branch.  Congress may be a source of support, but without a viable agency to execute programs with their funding in place, it may be the U.S. nuclear energy industry is facing a dark and uncertain future at least where the federal government is concerned.

The problem is similarly acute in the UK where a precipitous drive to exit from relationships with the European Union is turning relationships with Euratom on its head.

That said people are speaking up. Here are a series of brief summary reports of industry views on what needs to be done to put the nuclear energy industry in the US and the UK in gear to address the challenge of decarbonization of our energy use.

US Must Expand Nuclear to Maintain Global Influence

  • America’s nuclear fleet key to maintaining geopolitical influence
  • Nuclear power is essential to addressing energy, security and climate challenges
  • Rise of China and Russia poses challenge to nuclear governance

A country’s nuclear energy expertise is a significant element of its geopolitical influence and, along with other clean energy technologies, is essential to meeting global clean energy demands and addressing climate challenges, the Global Nexus Initiative (GNI) says in its fourth and final policy memo.

The expansion of nuclear development outside the United States and Europe is shifting influence toward nations that have not been known as leaders in nuclear governance, like Russia and China. Traditional nuclear leaders like the United States and its allies must bolster their role as nuclear suppliers in order to continue influencing regulatory and security norms, the report states.

Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) discussed U.S. position at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

“The control of market share translates into the power to create nuclear governance rules and prevent commercial competition from eroding vital safety, security and nonproliferation standards.”

image

Source: IAEA

Chart Notes: For the US, the three planned nuclear reactors are far from done deals. They are DTE’s Fermi III, Dominion’s North Anna III, and Duke’s William States Lee plants. All have received NRC licenses. However, given the financial troubles faced by reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, it could be a long time before any other utility in the U.S. decides to proceed with a full size nuclear reactor regardless of the vendor.

India’s commitments are problematic since 12 of the 20 planned units are supposed to be supplied by Areva and Westinghouse, and neither vendor is anywhere near able to break ground.

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GNI also recommends that the current framework of governance evolve into one that is forward-looking and can handle the particular challenges that the next few decades will present, including effectively involving newcomer nations, guiding emerging suppliers and combating climate change.

The think tank said in its statement that traditional nuclear suppliers … have primarily written the current rules. But they are in the process of losing ground on nuclear commerce to Russia and soon China. These are very serious issues for the entire global community. Nuclear operation and supply are special responsibilities. And, radiation does not respect borders. Standards must be strong.

“An aggressive and effective response to these new realities—strengthening, unifying, and when necessary, expanding the nuclear governance system—is essential for nuclear power to continue to play a vital role in meeting the increasing global need for carbon-free energy in the 21st Century,” GNI says.

Part of this effort will involve not only developing and deploying advanced reactor technology, but also working to preserve the current nuclear plants.

“To increase its market share and thereby preserve its ability to shape the global use of nuclear technology, the United States must have both a strong domestic nuclear power program and an aggressive nuclear trade and export program,” NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Korsnick said at the conference.

“However, preserving the existing fleet is also fundamental to achieve these goals. Without the existing fleet and the associated infrastructure it will be increasingly difficult for technological innovation to occur, or to maintain a robust supply chain for our nuclear navy.”

To achieve these goals, GNI recommends the development of diverse coalitions that include governments, international institutions, the industry, nonproliferation experts, environmental specialists and other stakeholders. As a joint project of the Nuclear Energy Institute and PGS that drew together a diverse range of experts, GNI is a positive example of what these innovative partnerships can do.

US Nuclear Industry Calls For Action On ‘Outdated And Costly’ Regulatory Regime

(NucNet) The US nuclear industry has called for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “outdated and costly” regulatory regime to be updated. In testimony to the House appropriations committee’s energy and water development subcommittee on May 3, 2017.

Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick said the need for Congressional action on regulatory reform has become more urgent as utilities consider using accident tolerant fuel and NRC applications are being submitted for certification of small modular reactor designs, which will be deployed in the mid-2020s.

She said developers of advanced non-light-water reactors are beginning to deal with the NRC as they look to deploy their technologies around 2030. She said the industry wanted an urgent review of accident tolerant fuel and advanced reactor programs, and funding for federal research and development efforts that promote new technologies and innovation.

Ms Korsnick also called for licensing the proposed Yucca Mountain deep geologic repository and construction of a consolidated interim storage facility.  Ms Korsnick’s testimony is online: http://bit.ly/2qHz6PY

Engineering Association Calls For UK To Focus On SMR Development

(NucNet) The UK should focus on developing small modular reactors (SMRs) to secure the country’s nuclear industry post-Brexit, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME). The report says SMRs could present the UK with export opportunities and return the country to the international nuclear reactor supply arena.

The report outlines possible routes the government could take to leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) regarding issues such as safeguards, nuclear cooperation agreements, research and development, and regulation.

The IME is calling for the UK to develop its own safeguarding office, to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation, but says the UK should remain an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D.

Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment for the IME and lead author of the report, said in a May 5, 2017 statement that the UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be “complicated and difficult”, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to “reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology”.

EDF Hopes For UK-Style Subsidies For New Nuclear Plants In France

(NucNet) French state-owned utility EDF hopes for UK-style subsidies for the construction of new nuclear plants in France and expects that president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reduce the share of nuclear in the French power mix is a “long-term” plan.

EDF chief financial officer Xavier Girre said EDF was hoping to convince the Macron government to introduce state subsidies for new nuclear plants, modelled on the contracts for difference (CfD) scheme under which EDF is planning to build two EPR nuclear units at Hinkley Point in England.

EDF has signed a CfD with the British government under which it can sell power at £92.5/MWh for 35 years. The Hinkley Point project will cost £18bn (€21bn, $23bn).

If the market price is above that level, EDF refunds the difference, if it is below that level it receives a top-up.

According to the World Nuclear Association, France has 58 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF), with a total capacity of 63.2 GWe, supplying 436 TWh of electricity in 2014, 77.5% of the total generated there (IEA data).

As a result of the 1974 decision, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro.

The problem France faces is that starting in 2021 32 of its 58 operating reactors will begin to hit the 40 year mark. The end of the the 2020s, all of France’s older 900 MW units will be 40 years old. Planning an affordable succession for these units is a major challenge that must be met starting now.

WNA French Nuclear Power

Mr Girre said EDF also wanted to talk to the new government about the ARENH (‘Regulated Access to Incumbent Nuclear Electricity’) mechanism under which currently it is forced to sell up to 25% of its nuclear output to competitors as part of measures to improve competition in the retail power market.

“We consider that it is necessary and fair to reform the ARENH mechanism to prevent it from being as biased as it is today,” he said.

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Idaho Lab Plans New Uses for NuScale SMR

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has a plan to conduct nuclear energy R&D using NuScale’s light water reactor technology.

In doing so it will create a test bed on an international scale for advanced reactor designs.

According to a report in the Idaho Falls Post Register for May4, 2017, 18 reactor design groups have expressed interest in using a proposed nuclear reactor test facility at the INL and two of them have indicated they are ready to move their test operations to the site as soon as one of the 12 planned NuScale 50 MW modules is available.

A spokesman for NuScale, which plans to build up to 12 50 MW small modular reactor units at the Idaho site, told the newspaper the first unit for its customer UAMPS, is slated to begin operation in 2026. Last December NuScale submitted their SMR design to the NRC for design certification, which is expected to take three-to-four years to complete.

nuscaleroadmap

NuScale Roadmap

The umbrella concept for the test platform is to use one or possibly two of the 12 units as part of the INL’s joint proposal with NuScale and UAMPS for a “Joint Use Modular Plant.”  The idea is that one or two of the 50 MW units, built after the first unit is in revenue service, would serve as a platform to test different applications of the SMR’s capabilities.

Some of the potential applications that have been discussed being tested including using grids of SMRs to support resilient power for communities so that if one unit is offline, the others keep churning out electricity. With large 1000 MW units, if they go offline, a lot of expensive replacement power has to be obtained right away. If it isn’t available because of demand, brownouts or blackouts can be the result.

Some SMRs might also have as one of their primary purposes providing steam for district heating replacing coal fired units or for desalinization of sea water.

The most intriguing idea is to apply the test SMRs to support development of advanced reactor designs. To that end Terrestrial Energy, a Canadian firm, is reported to be in discussions with the INL to do test work there to develop its molten salt reactor design.

The firm wants to take advantage of the INL’s site with its infrastructure and the fact that environmental reviews for this kind of project were completed for the NuScale project. Having access to the lab’s scientists and engineers is also a big plus.

This kind of work is usually done on a cost-reimbursable basis which means that Terrestrial Energy would have to pay for any costs associated with using the site and having access to a future SMR. To this end Terrestrial Energy has applied for a Department of Energy loan-guarantee.

However, to date the company is still working off of Series A financing packages and has yet to book an investor or a consortium in the $100M or greater range which would be needed to proceed with a prototype.  Nevertheless, the firm has said its time to market for its novel design would be sometime in the 2020s. It announced ambitious plans last January to submit its design to the NRC by 2019.

In July 2016 Transatomic, a developer of an advanced nuclear reactor design, told this blog it also has approached the INL for possible use of test facilities there and to explore the potential to build its first prototype at the site. Transatomic has received a grant from the GAIN program at the INL for work on the specialized fuel that would be needed for its reactor design.

The problem facing both Terrestrial Energy and Transatomic is that new reactor technologies must prove to utilities that they can be operated at a profit within the constraints of existing market realities or they will not be adopted. This requires extensive testing of designs and development of cost estimates that will attract equity investors and customers.

The Idaho test facility, if built, may be able to speed up the process. It will need help from the Department of Energy as will the developers in public / private partnerships to succeed.

SMR Policy Paper Calls for Strong Government Role

A consortium of SMR developers has spelled out the elements of a commercial deployment program needed to stimulate new SMR generation sufficient for self-sustaining deployment. The program should be available through a combination of the following investment mechanisms: (full details here)

  • Production Tax Credits
  • Power Purchase Agreements
  • Loan Guarantees
  • SMR investment tax credit
  • DOE research, development, and demonstration of innovative SMR capabilities
  • DOE and DOD programs to develop the requirements and specifications for SMR-Powered Secure and Reliable microgrids

SMR Trade Group Urges DOE to Use Their Reactors for Grid Stability

  • SMR Start asks DOE to level playing field for small, advanced reactors
  • Nuclear’s unique combination of benefits includes energy security, grid stability
  • SMRs can load-follow, acting in concert with intermittent renewables

smr logoThe indisputable fact is that the nation’s electrical grid cannot run 100% on renewable energy. Both solar and wind are intermittent, and in order to keep the electrical grid stable, there has to be baseload supply/generation.

So far this stability has been provided by large 1000 MW nuclear reactors, as well as gas and coal fired conventional power plants.

The industry consortium of small modular reactor (SMR) developers and customers has written to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’to support his request for a departmental study on the nation’s energy security and grid reliability. Their main pitch is that if you want grid stabilty, and CO2 emission free baseload power, SMRs are the way to go. Plus they are a lot cheaper than the the full size reactors.

For instance, at $4,000/KW, a 50 MW SMR would cost only $200M. In a multi-unit facility, like the one planned by NuScale for its customer UAMPS, the revenue from the first unit pays for the second and so on. This means the customer is not in a “bet the company” profile waiting for a 1000 MW unit costing $4 billion to come online.

The challenge for SMR vendors is to get enough orders to shift production from a complex supply chain and one-at-a-time fabrication to a factory production line to achieve economies of scale.

These facts are most likely unknown to the new energy secretary who’s background as a career politician in Texas hasn’t instilled much confidence in the industry, although it won’t say that in public.

So starting with the obvious, the in May 2 letter the SMR Start consortium highlighted the role that nuclear energy plays in securing the nation’s baseload power diversity and grid stability.

“Nuclear energy is reliable baseload power that generates nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity and is a major reason we benefit from affordable electricity prices today,” the letter said.

Perry’s memo to his staff expressed concerns about the potential erosion of the diversity of critical baseload resources, and asked for a 60-day study into how federal policy interventions may be distorting wholesale electricity markets.

He also asked whether some attributes of baseload power sources that strengthen grid reliability are being adequately valued and compensated in wholesale electricity markets, and the extent to which “market-distorting” federal subsidies may “boost one form of energy at the expense of others.”

This last item is clearly aimed at the need to value the zero carbon emissions profile of the nation’s nuclear fleet. A number of otherwise fully operational nucler reactors have closed due to market conditions that undercut their ability to operate at a profit. They include reactors in Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Vermont, among others.

SMR Start’s letter points out that with regard to nuclear energy, the markets are not fully valuing its unique combination of benefits, including “grid reliability, on-site fuel supply, technology diversity, carbon-free generation and long-term price stability.”

The letter recommends that the U.S. Department of Energy implement policy solutions to “level the playing field” for the deployment of new reactors, as well as to preserve existing nuclear facilities. This means rate structures have to be set up that will provide confidence for investors to put up the money to developa and deploy new SMRs for commercial use.

SMRs, which are expected to begin operating in the mid-2020s, will feature “the ability to better match new generation capacity with electric demand growth, enhance grid reliability through load following in areas with high penetration of intermittent renewables, and the ability to be deployed in diverse applications.”

“Federal support for SMRs will continue to be needed in 2018 and over the next several years in order to bring this technology to market in time to meet future energy demands.”

SMR Start’s policy paper further recommends that DOE and the U.S. Department of Defense establish programs to develop SMR-powered microgrids that can power remote locations independent of the main grid, making them “less vulnerable” to natural phenomena and intentional acts.

TVA Not Bullish on SMRs but Keeps Options Open

The Knoxville News reports on May 2 that while TVA has filed an application for an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a small modular reactor at its Clinch River site, it does not feel the technology nor the utility are ready to move ahead with one.

  • First, TVA says it doesn’t need new nuclear power generation capabilities.
  • Second, it thinks the cost per kilowatt still isn’t competitive with gas fired plants and the expected operational costs would be too high.
  • Third, the NRC has just started to evaluate NuScale’s design for safety, a process that could take three-to-four years.

The quasi-governmental utility also has a problem with debt ceiling that makes it wary of taking on new capital intensive projects with unknown costs.

According to the Knoxville News report, a TVA executive told the newspaper the utility is taking a wait-and-see attitude towards SMRs. He said that the utility has no commitment to build an SMR, but will seriously consider its options once it sees that there is a cost effective design available.

For that to happen, he said, the industry would have to have shifted from one-at-a-time unit by unit construction to the production of whole reactor systems in factories. The design would have “to be self-contained and not need much of the infrastructure of a site built reactor.”

TVA’s doesn’t specify what kind of SMR technology nor a preferred reactor vendor.  NRC spokesman Scott Burnell told the newspaper the agency only requires that the application shows that the site is capable of supporting a “generic set of nuclear power plant characteristics.”

China SMR Ready for Production

(China Daily) The first pilot project to use China National Nuclear Corporation’s 125 MWe ACP100 small modular nuclear reactor has completed its preliminary design stage and is qualified for construction in Hainan province.

The Linglong One is the first reactor of its kind in the world to have passed the safety review by the IAEA. ( October 2016 IAEA briefing slides PDF file on capabilities and expected uses)

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The company said that the ACP100, China’s first small modular reactor (SMR) developed by CNNC for practical use is expected to be built at the end of this year in the Changjiang Li autonomous county of Hainan.

Qian Tianlin, general manager of China Nuclear New Energy Investment, said that small-scale nuclear reactor technology has reached a stage at which it can be used on a pilot basis. It can be used to generate heat for a residential district replacing coal-fired boilers and for grid stability in a mesh network.

Qian said he expects mass production of the small modular reactors after the pilot project in Hainan is up and running, and for the technology to be exported globally.

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