No Progress in 123 Agreement Negotiations with KSA

  • Uranium symbolThe New York Times reports 11/23/18 that U.S. talks with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) remain stalemated over the issue of domestic enrichment of uranium to make nuclear fuel.
  • Nonproliferation experts are cited in the newspaper’s report saying that KSA could not build this capability without outside help perhaps from Pakistan.
  • The newspaper has an odd note that there is a potential deal for commercial reactors with Westinghouse licensed to South Korea, but a quick look at the source shows it is based on a 2013 report by WNA that has long since been overtaken by events. In any case it is not plausible that South Korea would give up export earnings for a KSA deal that involved Westinghouse.

                                                       Updated 11/27/18 – See below

In a long report the New York Times writes that there has been so little progress in “getting to yes” on a 123 Agreement with KSA over its plans for build two and possibly as many as 16 commercial nuclear reactors that DOE Secretary Rick Perry has clammed up about the negotiations and won’t talk about them to the news media.  (See prior coverage on this blog from 09/29/18)

It is doubtful that KSA could build today even two full size nuclear reactors much another 14 of them over the next two-to-three decades.  The logistical challenges for supply chain, having a skilled workforce, and paying for it all exceed KSA’s capabilities to go it alone. It is going to need substantial help from other nations.

The problem is that KSA is insisting that it has the right to make its own nuclear fuel. Such a “dual use” capability, which involves the enrichment of ordinary uranium (U238 with 0.7% U235) to 5% U235 for commercial purposes. It also opens the door to enrichment to 80% or higher levels of U235 suitable for making nuclear weapons. ( See on this blog A Reader on Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Energy Plans  Seven Easy Pieces on the Issues )

KSA Wants a Domestic Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capability

KSA officials tell the NYT that it intends to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities, if necessary, on a centrifuge-by-centrifuge basis and has rejected the U.S. demand in the negotiations to allow nuclear inspectors to look at any facility that might contain such equipment.

The problem for KSA is that is has no such fuel cycle facilities. Despite having abundant deposits of uranium ore, the country has no uranium mill to make yellowcake, no conversion plant to make UF6, no enrichment facilities, and no fuel fabrication plant to make fuel assemblies for commercial reactors. The cost of all of these fuel cycle facilities would be, at a minimum, in the range of $5-10 billion and take at least 3-5 years to build.

It would be a lot cheaper for KSA to just buy the commercial nuclear fuel from firms that make it like Urenco rather than go all this effort and expense hence the view of nonproliferation experts that KSA’s demand for domestic enrichment is based on a desire for nuclear weapons. The impact on oil revenues intended for the domestic budget might be a stumbling block especially if the price of oil stays low.

The NYT indicates that KSA could get help from Pakistan not only for uranium enrichment capabilities, but also for the technical know how to make bombs. The problem for Pakistan is that such actions could make it a target for Iran’s medium range ballistic missiles. Even the threat of such a move might thwart a move by Pakistan to help KSA.

What it comes down to is that KSA has dug in its heels on the issue of domestic uranium enrichment and in doing so creates a real threat of being able to move quickly to making bomb material.  It becomes a barrier for any progress on a 123 Agreement similar to the one the U.S. has with the United Arab Emirates which bans uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

The NYT quotes William Tobey, a senior official in the Energy Department during the Bush administration who has testified about the risks of the agreement with Saudi Arabia.

“We have never before contemplated, let alone concluded, a nuclear cooperation agreement with a country that was threatening to leave the nonproliferation treaty, even provisionally,” he said.

The NYT also creates a bridge of sorts between the failed, and tragically comical efforts of now disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who sought to craft a nuclear deal with KSA involving Russia and the lifting of U.S. trade sanctions on that country and current negotiations lead by the Department of Energy and the State Department.

Flynn’s hair brained plan, launched in April 2015, never had a chance to get off the ground due to the fact that the plummeting price of oil in January of that year put the entire KSA nuclear plan on ice.

KSA’s Current Leader Cannot be Trusted
with Nuclear Technologies

Aaron David Miller, and others point out that neither KSA nor the Trump administration can be trusted to comply with a 123 agreement, even if we had one, “Gold Standard” or not given the awful situation we now have with Kashoggi’s murder and Trump giving MBS a “pass” on it.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress last May the gold standard for a 123 agreement would be U.S. policy, but given pattern of Trump disregarding advice from his cabinet, and intelligence agencies, where does that leave us?

Plus, there are multiple reports in the U.S. news media, including a recent analysis by the Bloomberg wire service, that detail the extensive financial deals Donald Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, have with KSA for U.S. real estate investments.

In short, KSA has strong financial leverage over the president, and his family, that its ruthless and inexperienced ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, AKA “MBS”, wouldn’t hesitate to use it if needs be.

He’s clearly demonstrated his disregard for international norms in the murder of Jamal Kashoggi in the KSA embassy in Istanbul. His leverage over the Trump administration is demonstrated by the President’s refusal to accept the intelligence reports he’s received about the ghastly event.

A 123 Agreement with KSA, inked in this environment, with watered down rules, would likely be useless in constraining the nuclear ambitions of that country. Congress should reject one that doesn’t uphold the “gold standard” and should impose additional oversight conditions as prerequisite conditions, e.g., unrestricted inspections, with clear consequences for violations or noncompliance.

If U.S. 123 agreement negotiations with KSA fail, my view is that it is doubtful any current nuclear weapons capable state would want to create another one by providing technology that would achieve that outcome. It’s a very exclusive club and everyone in it wants to keep it that way.

It is one of the reasons there are four other nuclear weapons capable countries that signed on to the Iran nuclear deal. That concept might be the only thing that stands in the way of KSA getting its own nuclear weapons capability.

South Korea Still Has Shot at a Deal with KSA,
but Not with Westinghouse

What sense does it make for the South Koreans to supply reactors to KSA without a gold standard commitment in place on their end?  The answer is none.

South Korea would be governed by its 123 agreement with the US if it sourced Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to be built under license in KSA.

Also, South Korea has no commercial reason to partner with Westinghouse as it has it’s own 1400 MW PWR for export and is building 4 of  them in the UAE. South Korea has a mature supply chain in place for this design and would undoubtedly like to keep it’s domestic industries, and workforce, fully employed and humming along with fabrication of parts for its design, and not one from a US firm.

South Korea also has a long-standing development agreement with KSA to build 100 MW small modular reactors for placement at coastal sites to power desalinization plants.

KSA can kick the tires on one of the S. Korean units anytime it wants next door in the UAE plus Westinghouse has the overhang of the failed  V C Summer project in US dragging down the brand relative to its success in China. There the first two of four AP1000s under construction have been commissioned and are in revenue service on the grid.

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

Note that South Korea would have to certify to the US that any full size, e.g., 1400 MW, light water reactors it proposed to supply to KSA would not have any US technology in them. That’s a tall order and a licensing deal with Westinghouse is not a viable strategy since it doesn’t obviate the terms of the South Korean 123 agreement with the US. Further, copying but not licensing, the Westinghouse technology (AP1000 design) would likely lead to protracted litigation and no deals.

Is it possible the NYT report is not correct? I have not seen anything elsewhere to corroborate it. The NYT report appears to be based on a 2013 note posted by the World Nuclear Association which has long since been overtaken by events.

Update 11/27/18
Further Notes on South Korea and KSA

According to several sources this blog talked to over the Thanksgiving holiday, South Korea has said in the past, several times, that they could seek to deliver APR1400 reactors to KSA that did not have US content (and did not require 123 Agreement). They would call this the APR+ design.

It would involve efforts by Korean companies to replicate components supplied by Westinghouse to build the APR1400s under construction in the UAE,  but without a licensing agreement which is what South Korea does have with Westinghouse for the UAE work. Note that the UAE got its 123 agreement with the US in part to enable it to acquire this technology from Westinghouse and these components.

Two problems come with with approach. First, it is theft of intellectual property, e.g., no licensing agreement, which Westinghouse would surely seek to stop. Second, it’s still US technology and, as I understand it, can’t be transferred by South Korea to a nation that doesn’t have a 123 agreement regardless of whether there is a licensing agreement or not.

Would South Korea violate the terms of its 123 Agreement?

My surmise, and that’s all it is, would be that South Korea would not deliberately violate the terms of its 123 Agreement with the US. The logic behind that surmise is that it would not want to add another item of contention with North Korea.

Further, while DRNK seems to take one step forward, one back, cooler heads have prevailed and DRNK has not conducted any further underground nuclear tests nor missile launches since Trump met with Kim. South Korea would prefer to see incremental change on the peninsula over time so abiding by the terms of the 123 agreement might be seen as a confidence builder for relations with DRNK.

Also, the new 123 agreement that South Korea has with the US opens the door for South Korea to investigate development of fast reactors that involve reprocessed spent nuclear fuel. The US hasn’t yet given the OK yet to this work, but it is something that South Korea wants. It won’t get it if the country’s leadership gets caught with a violation of the 123 agreement.

A mitigating factor is that the current political leadership in South Korea is at loggerheads with the country’s nuclear industry over new domestic builds but not, apparently, over export deals. Even so it agreed last year to restart construction of two new reactors (Reuters).

Further Note on IAEA Inspections

In a long and detailed review of the IAEA requirements for inspections, Mark Hibbs, a nuclear energy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes at the Arms Control Wonk on 11/27/18 that the efforts of members of the so-called short list qualified to provide reactors to KSA would hit a brick wall without the inspections protocols in place.

“Without Riyadh having made provisions for routine IAEA safeguards inspections, none of the governments in countries that the KSA has shortlisted as possible nuclear power plant vendor partners—China, France, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States—will supply nuclear power reactors to the Kingdom or to any other NPT non-nuclear-weapon state.”

Meanwhile, South Korea isn’t waiting around for KSA to make up its mind about how to comply, or not, with IAEA requirements.  South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to ask Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis to support South Korea’s bid to construct a nuclear power plant in the central European country.

Prior Updates on KSA 123 Agreement Negotiations

Kashoggi Controversy May End Possible KSA Nuclear Deals with U.S. Firms

10/31/18 – According to the Associated Press five Republican senators told President Trump on 10/31/18 to suspend negotiations with Saudi Arabia for the transfer of commercial nuclear power technologies due the growing anger in Congress over the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The senators warned in a letter that they would work to block an agreement from securing congressional approval if the administration pushes ahead with a 123 Agreement with KSA especially if it waters down the “gold standard” included in a similar agreement with the UAE. That bilateral document prohibits the UAE from undertaking uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing.

The letter was signed by Sens. Marco Rubio, FL; Cory Gardner, CO; Rand Paul, KY; Todd Young, IN; and Dean Heller, NV.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July approved a nonbinding resolution saying that any U.S.-Saudi nuclear agreement must make clear that it would prevent a civilian nuclear energy program from becoming a gateway to nuclear weapons development.

The Washington Post reports that the senators point out that KSA has not agreed in its negotiations with the U.S. over the 123 agreement to adopt the gold standard. Also, they noted that had previously expressed concerns that any transfer of nuclear technologies, even for civilian use, might lead to a weapons program.

The opposition in Congress to a 123 Agreement with KSA may not matter as South Korea has a better chance of getting the business based on their work building four reactors in the UAE and a long-standing contract with KSA to develop SMRs for sea water desalinization.

10/18/18: With the media revelations of the horrific death of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi that took place inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, KSA can probably forget about any chance Congress would approve a 123 Agreement for US exports of nuclear technology to that country. While the President is dissembling over accountability for KSA’s leadership, Congress is running hot in its reactions to the crisis.

Update for September 2018

09/29/18: DOE Energy Secretary Perry, the public face of the U.S. negotiating team engaged in talks with counterparts from KSA, is having a tough time getting to yes. Efforts to craft a 1123 Agreement that upholds the “gold standard” set by an bilateral arrangement with the UAE, and emphasized by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have gone nowhere.

Updates for July 2018

Short List – Reuters reported on 7/1/18 that KSA short listed five countries as bidders for its planned development of nuclear energy power stations.

State-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) had been shortlisted to bid for a nuclear project in Saudi Arabia along with the United States, France, China and Russia, South Korea’s energy ministry said according to the wire service.

The statement said the winner of the tender was expected to be chosen in 2019. Note that this statement about “short listing” is essentially meaningless since it comprises all of the bidders.

Israel Sets Red Lines –  The news wire Axios reported on 7/8/18 that Israel presented U.S. with “red lines” for Saudi nuclear deal. Israel’s demands may become irrelevant if, as predicted by this blog, Bloomberg, and others, that South Korea has the pole position and will not need any approval from the US for sale of its 100 MW SMART SMR to KSA.

A senior Israeli official told Axios the Israeli government realized it will not be able to stop the deal and has decided instead to attempt to reach an understanding with the Trump administration regarding the parameters of the deal. This assumes that the US is part of the KSA nuclear deal in the first place, which is in no way guaranteed.

According to the Axios report, last March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised concerns about KSA’s demand for a “right” to enrich uranium, which he felt will lead to further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister came to Washington in mid-June to meet with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.  Axios reports that Steinitz told Perry and other senior U.S. officials, presumably some from the State Dept, that Israel asked the U.S. for a “no surprises policy” regarding the negotiations with the Saudis to ensure maximum transparency. The US may itself get surprised given its blind spot about the potential for being shut out of the deal for all but some of the non-nuclear component sales.

There is also a problem for Westinghouse as it emerges from its bankruptcy proceedings. The Canadian equity fund that purchased Westinghouse in January 2018 for $4.6 billion, Brookfield, has as one of its largest sources of cash the Qatar Industrial Authority which has a 7% stake in the firm.

So the question is whether KSA, which is hard over in its posture towards Qatar, would do business with a US nuclear firm that is backed financially by that country.  Note that  a large US trade delegation went to KSA in April 2018 to make a pitch for the nuclear business. Brookfield disclosed the financial relationship with Qatar in a March 2018 filing to the SEC.

Other items on the Steinitz list included;

  • Israel asked to know in advance what nuclear equipment the U.S. would sell the Saudis and asked to be consulted about the planned location of the nuclear reactors the U.S. would build in Saudi Arabia. From KSA’s perspective, any geographic coordinates are the basis for an Israeli bombing raid if the nuclear program shifts gears from commercial power to nuclear weapons. Note that Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007 that was making plutonium for nuclear bombs.
  • Israel demanded that the deal will not give Saudi Arabia the capability or the legitimacy to enrich uranium on its soil. The Saudis want to get American permission to enrich uranium as part of the deal. From KSA’s perspective, much hinges on hows Iran deals with President Trump’s decision to cancel the US commitment to the Iran nuclear deal. Currently, Iran is negotiating with other parties to the agreement to try to keep it in place and to get compensation for US sanctions.
  • Israel demanded that the U.S. will be the only nation to supply the Saudis with the nuclear fuel for its reactors. The US may not have any leverage in this regard if the reactors come from South Korea, France, or China.
  • Israel demanded that the U.S. must remove all used nuclear fuel from Saudi Arabia so that the Saudis will not be able to reprocess it. Ditto.

Axios reports that Perry told Steinitz the U.S. will discuss the “red lines” request during Perry’s planned visit to Israel next October.

Update June 2018

On May 24 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saudis must not enrich uranium if it seeks civilian nuclear cooperation.

The Washington Post reported that Pompeo said that the Trump administration is insisting that Saudi Arabia accept the same limits on uranium enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing as other Middle East nations seeking commercial nuclear energy deals with U.S. companies.

The United Arab Emirates has such a 123 Agreement with the US and is building four 1400 MW PWR type commercial nuclear reactors at a Persian Gulf coastal site which are supplied by a consortium of South Korean firms.

Pompeo said that the Saudis “have said they want a peaceful nuclear energy program, and we have told them we want a gold-standard Section 123 Agreement from them, which would not permit them to enrich.”

The Post reports that Pompeo’s comments came in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It is the first clear and unambiguous Trump administration statement of policy on the issue of nuclear cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which has been meeting with lawmakers, administration officials and nonproliferation experts for the past several months. KSA has been seeking to soften the US position, but Pompeo’s statement may have put an end to these efforts.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants to build two nuclear reactors to reduce the use of oil used domestically to generate electricity and to desalinate sea water.

It has reviewed plans from five international groups, including a consortium led by Westinghouse, which is now in bankruptcy, and Bechtel. The kingdom had said that it would choose one by the end of March 2019.  As a practical matter, it is more likely that KSA will proceed with plans to build one or more small modular reactors (SMRs) supplied by South Korea. See details on this design below.

Sources

  • See on this blog A Reader on Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Energy Plans Seven easy pieces on various aspects of KSA’s nuclear plans going back to 2014.
  • For a discussion of the role of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in limiting the transfer of uranium enrichment technology, see the analysis by Mark Hibbs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Hibbs notes the the NSG is considering adding Pakistan, which could otherwise be a supplier to KSA, and India as members to bring them into the fold.
  • For a general review of Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions and Proliferation Risks, see this multi-author review at the Institute for Science and International Security. It includes a summary of improvements in domestic capabilities including workforce training.

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Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

Dan’s Idaho Nuclear Chili – 11th Annual Posting

This is a Thanksgiving tradition now published for the 11th year in a row here and  previously at my former blog Idaho Samizdat (2007-2012)

PotChili1In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and wanting to take a break from reading, thinking, and writing about nuclear energy, I’m offering my tried and true cooking instructions for something completely different.

By Sunday night you will be stuffed, fed up, literally, and figuratively, with turkey. Instead of food fit for pilgrims, try food invented to be eaten in the wide open west — chili. Cook this dish on Saturday. Eat it on Sunday. Take it to work for lunch on Monday. 

These instructions take about an hour to complete. This chili has a few more vegetables and beans than some people might like, but we’re all trying to eat healthy these days. Although the name of this dish has the word “nuclear” in it, it isn’t that hot on the Scoville scale. If you want some other choices for nuclear chili there are lots of recipes on Google

six pack of beerThe beer adds sweetness to the vegetables, as does the brandy, and is a good for cooking generally. In terms of the beer, which is an essential ingredient, you’ll still have five cans or bottles left to share with friends so there’s always that.

However, I recommend dark beers or amber ales such as Negra Modelo or Anchor Steam for drinking with this dish and Budweiser or any American pilsner for cooking it. Alternatives for drinking include local western favorites such as Moose Drool or Black Butte Porter, and regional amber ales like Alaskan Amber or Fat Tire. Do not cook with “light” beer. It’s a very bad idea! Your dinner guests will not forgive you. 😦

The men and women running the reactors couldn’t drink beer, but they did have coffee. It’s still that way today.

History of the cooking instructions

Scoville, Idaho, is the destination for Union Pacific rail freight for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) way out on the Arco desert. The line comes up from Blackfoot, ID, using the UP spur that connects Pocatello with Idaho Falls, and, eventually, to Butte, MT.

There is no town by the name of “Scoville,” but legend has it that way back in the 1950s & 60s, when the place was called the National Reactor Testing Station, back shift workers on cold winter nights relished the lure of hot chili hence the use of the use of the name ‘Scoville” for shipping information.

The Arco desert west of Idaho Falls is both desolate and beautiful. In winter overnight temperatures on the Arco desert can plunge to -20F or more.  Bus riders on their way to work in the early morning hours have sometimes been astonished to see the aurora borealis full of streaming electrons in the skies overhead of the sagebrush landscape.  Some workers have a shorter trip than bouncing over Highway 20 from Idaho Falls. Their “commute” is from the small town of Arco which has a fabled history in the development of atomic energy.

arco-desert

The Arco Desert is home to several 2 million year old volcanic calderas that trace the travels of the hot spot now under Yellowstone National Park

inl.map

The Idaho National Laboratory is located about 45 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID 43.3N;112.1W more or less

Why ‘2nd day’ in the Name?

This is “2nd day chili.” That means after you make it, put it in the unheated garage or a refrigerator to cool, and then reheat it the next day.  Do not microwave it.  That will turn the beans to mush.

By waiting a day the flavors will have had time to mix with the ingredients, and on a cold Idaho night what you need that warms the body and the soul is a bowl of this hot chili with fresh, hot from the oven cornbread on the side.

Dan’s 2nd day Idaho Nuclear Chili

If you make a double portion, you can serve it for dinner over a hot Idaho baked potato with salad. Enjoy.

Ingredients

1 lb chopped or ground beef (15-20% fat)
1 large onion
1 sweet red pepper
1 sweet green pepper
10-12 medium size mushrooms
1 can pinto beans (plain, no “sauce”)
1 can black beans
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can small, white ‘shoepeg” corn
1 12 oz can beer
1 cup hot beef broth
1 tablespoon cooking brandy or sherry; and, bourbon is ok too
2 tablespoons finely chopped medium heat jalapeno peppers
2-4 tablespoons red chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse powdered garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cilantro

Directions

1. Chop the vegetables into small pieces and brown them in canola cooking oil. Add 1 tablespoon of cooking brandy to the vegetables near the end. Drain thoroughly. Sprinkle chili powder, salt, pepper, spices, etc., to taste on vegetables while they are cooking. The onions should be more or less translucent to be fully cooked. Put the mushrooms in last as they cook fast.  Drain the vegetables and put them into the pot with beer and beef broth.
2. Brown the meat separately and drain the fat. Also sprinkle chili power and the cumin on the meat while cooking.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Reminder, be sure to drain the beans, and tomatoes before adding. Simmer slowly for at least one-to-two hours Stir occasionally.
4. Set aside and refrigerate when cool. If the pot doesn’t fit in the frig, and the garage is unheated, put it out here to cool off.
5. Reheat the next day. Garnish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Serve with cornbread and beer.
Feeds 2-4 adults.

inl_bus

Idaho bus drivers say “eat more chili.”  Enjoy.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Canada’s SMR Development Plan Leaves the Station

  • Roadmap shows Canada can lead in development of SMRs
  • Significant challenges face vendors and utilities to open these markets

cna logoThe Canadian Nuclear Association said (CNA) that a roadmap released this week for the deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) lays the groundwork for Canada to lead globally in the development of innovative nuclear technologies of the future. It is intended to add momentum to Canada’s efforts to be a center of SMR technology development, production, and use.

The association said the roadmap, produced by a group including experts from the provinces, territories and energy utilities in Canada, outlines potential applications for SMRs. The applications include

  • generating electricity and heat for small or remote communities;
  • providing clean process heat and electricity for resource industries; and
  • clean electricity to existing power grids, particularly those needing to replace fossil fuels for their baseload generation.

NucNet reports that the roadmap calls for clarity in several areas;

  • the value of different SMR technologies compared to fossil plants;
  • the identification of key issues related to regulatory readiness of SMR designs,
  • waste management and transportation policy;
  • analysis of risks and challenges; and
  • identification of policies that might impact SMR feasibility in Canada.

The roadmap does not make distinctions regarding light water v. advanced nuclear reactors designs such as molten salt. Market readiness along the line of technology maturity will be a success factor especially in this decade.

A Few Coordinates are Missing from the Roadmap

ice road truckerMissing from the list is an answer to the question how to develop a workforce that is willing and able to work for long periods of time in remote locations in Canada’s sparsely populated territories.

Aligned with that question is the issue of getting components to the sites, supporting the plants once they are in operations, and providing ongoing operations and maintenance of them in harsh winter conditions.

Note that while “ice road truckers” have brought heavy loads across frozen lakes and rivers, none of them have handled a freight manifest that includes an SMR RPV. For instance, NuScale estimates the total weight of one of its 50 MW units is about 700 tons.  Even if shipped in pieces, some regions lack both road and rail transportation infrastructure to support delivery of the components.

Even before that Canada’s indigenous communities have been notoriously hard over in opposition to uranium mining. Would anyone care to predict what their responses would be to small modular reactors?

While diesel fueled generator power is expensive, and dirty, SMRs would also bring growth and unpredictable and possibly disruptive socio-economic changes to their communities. This is why the roadmap puts so much emphasis on “consultations” with these communities.

There is a question of the long distances that electric distribution grids would have to cover to deliver the power. This raises the issue of pricing and whether the small communities targeted for SMRs could afford the electricity generated by them. While generation costs would be lower than diesel fuel, someone has to pay for the new power lines. Is this something the government is prepared to do?

Also, if this blog had a nickel for every time a nuclear reactor vendor had it in mind to sell its reactors to the Alberta tar sands oil companies, I’d have long since retired. The tar sands oil firms are not going to make these kinds of long term capital investments when current methods of producing steam for their operations are cheap and cost competitive.  Bruce Power learned this lesson nearly a decade ago when it tried to sell two 1,000 MW PWR type units to the tar sands industry.

Note that Canada’s more heavily populated areas in a string of cities from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto might be more robust markets for SMRs, these regions are also served by existing full size nuclear power plants.  Similarly, there are population centers in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia that might be markets for SMRs. The roadmap also identifies exports of SMRs as a market mechanism and it should be explored.

Canada SMR Roadmap Signals ‘call to action’

World Nuclear News reports that the roadmap recommends actions according to four initiatives.

  • Demonstration and Deployment includes calling on the federal government, and provincial governments interested in SMRs, to provide funding to cost-share with industry in one or more SMR demonstration projects for advanced reactor designs.
  • Policy, Legislation and Regulation identifies priority actions under the Canadian impact assessment process, to ensure that nuclear liability limits for SMRs are aligned with the risks they pose.
  • Capacity, Engagement, and Public Confidence, calls for indigenous engagement in Canada’s far flung provinces,
  • International Partnerships and Markets focuses on frameworks for strong and effective international engagement on SMRs.

The report concludes that SMRs are a response to market forces for “smaller, simpler and cheaper” nuclear energy. If successful, it says, there will be a large global market for this technology, “driven not just by climate change and clean energy policies but also by the imperatives of energy security and access”.

The new roadmap is the result of a 10-month engagement process with the industry and potential end-users, including indigenous and northern communities and heavy industry. It includes over 50 recommendations in areas such as waste management, regulatory readiness and international engagement. It still has a long way to go.

The government said it welcomes the roadmap and is reviewing its recommendations. The report, A Call to Action: A Canadian Roadmap for Small Modular Reactors, was unveiled at the Generation IV and Small Reactor (G4SR) conference in Ottawa.

Industry Support for Roadmap is Crucial

CNA President and CEO John Barrett said the Roadmap lays the groundwork for Canada to lead in the development of innovative low-carbon nuclear technologies.

“The Canadian nuclear industry looks forward to working with federal and provincial governments to get these innovative power sources to market, both in Canada and abroad.”

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) last year set the goal of siting a new SMR on its Chalk River site by 2026, and co-hosted an SMR Vendor Roundtable as part of the G4SR conference.

“As a safe, reliable and low-carbon source of energy, SMRs have a number of unique features that could make them a unifying technology here in Canada,” CNL President and CEO Mark Lesinski said.

“In particular, SMRs are ideal for remote locations, such as mine sites, the oil sands or willing communities, which typically rely on diesel-fuelled generators for electricity. They can also be deployed alongside renewables, including wind and solar, offering reliable baseload power to these otherwise intermittent forms of energy.”

Canada’s mature nuclear supply chain and “vibrant pool” of skilled, innovative companies gives the country a distinct advantage in the deployment of SMR technology, he said.  Of course much of this “vibrant pool” is already employed at existing nuclear reactors. Where will the new workers needed to support a components supply chain, build and operate SMRs, come from? The roadmap could be improved if it addressed these labor force issues.

NuScale Inks MOU with Ontario Power for CNSC Review

Also at the G4SR conference, NuScale Power announced that Ontario Power Generation Inc (OPG) had agreed to support NuScale in its vendor design review (VDR) for its SMR with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding  (MOU) on the agreement, which NuScale Chairman and CEO John Hopkins said was an “important milestone” in the company’s efforts to bring its reactor to Canada.

Under the agreement, OPG will offer expertise to support NuScale’s VDR application, which is currently under development with the CNSC, as well as the further evaluation of development, licensing, and deployment of the first NuScale power plant in Canada.

The CNSC offers the pre-licensing VDR as an optional service to provide an assessment of a nuclear power plant design based on a vendor’s reactor technology.

The regulator announced in February 2018 that it had received NuScale’s application for a review of the self-contained 50 MWe integral pressurized water reactor, and is now developing a service agreement prior to setting a start date for the review.

CNNC lists 10 SMRs on its website as seeking or which have indicated intent to seek, pre-design reviews.

Westinghouse SMR Entry to Canadian Market

World Nuclear News reported last February that Westinghouse has also submitted an SMR design to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for pre-deign review. The firm is developing the eVinci micro reactor as a small nuclear energy generator for decentralized generation markets, such as remote communities, or arctic mines.

The frim describes the reactor has having a solid core, built around a solid steel monolith with channels for fuel pellets and heat pipes that remove heat from the core, and has minimal moving parts.

Fuel is encapsulated in the core, which the company says significantly reduces proliferation risk and enhances overall safety for the user. The heat pipes enable passive core heat extraction and inherent power regulation, allowing autonomous operation and inherent load following capabilities.

The reactor is designed to run for more than ten years without refueling. It can provide combined heat and power from 200 kWe to 25 MWe, and process heat up to 600 degrees Celsius.

Westinghouse said in October 2017 it plans to develop and demonstrate the eVinci reactor in less than six years. The company plans to develop a full-scale electrical demonstration unit to reduce technology gaps and demonstrate the ability to manufacture it by 2019, and has plans to qualify the eVinci micro reactor for commercial deployment by 2024.

Other Nuclear News

South Korea To Discuss
Moorside Future With UK Government

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UK Current and New Nuclear Energy Sites

(NucNet): South Korea’s state-controlled utility Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) has said it intends to talk to the British government about plans to build a new nuclear power station at the Moorside nuclear site in Cumbria, northwest England.

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a statement: “The ministry plans to closely coordinate with the British government on the Moorside project while monitoring the NuGen liquidation process with Kepco.”

Kepco had been a preferred bidder but lost that status in July as delays to concluding a deal dragged on primarily over differing views about costs.

Last week Toshiba announced it had decided to wind up NuGen, the company overseeing the original plans to build three Westinghouse AP1000 units at the Moorside site.

Toshiba said that it was taking this action because of its inability to find a buyer and the ongoing costs it was incurring. The company has already spent more than €459M on the project.  From the outside what it looks like its that Toshiba, which is stretched for cash, wanted a premium price from Kepco for the project which that firm has so far refused to accept. The result is that Toshiba’s best alternative to a negotiated deal is to walk away.

Toshiba put NuGen up for sale as part of its wider restructuring in the wake of financial problems triggered by losses in its US nuclear business which included the collapse of the V C Summer project in South Carolina.

Kepco had said it wanted to use its own Generation III+ APR-1400 nuclear reactor design for the project, which has not yey been submitted for approval by Britain’s nuclear regulator.  Once that happens it could take up to four years to complete the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for the reactor.

UK Regulators Announce
Completion of 2nd Stage of Hualong One Review

(NucNet): Nuclear regulators have completed their initial “high-level” scrutiny of the UK HPR1000 reactor design. They said, in typical government fashion, that the review has “not identified any fundamental safety, security or environmental issues that would prevent it being approved.” The review completes step two in the four-step GDA.

The UK’s joint regulators – the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency – said in a statement that the initial scrutiny was part of their generic design assessment (GDA) for China’s Hualong One design which is a 1,000 MW PWR. (Wikipedia large image)

Power Magazine reported last May that China is making significant headway on its Hualong One design. CGN in May installed the dome on the containment building of Unit 3 at the Fangchenggang nuclear power plant in western China, the first of two demonstration units being built at that site.

China National Nuclear Corp., a separate nuclear company, is also building two Hualong One units at Fuqing plant in Fujian Province. The units are planned to enter commercial operation in 2019 and 2020.

China General Nuclear (CGN) is a majority shareholder in Bradwell Power Generation Company, a joint venture with EDF, which is planning to build a one or more Hualong One plants at Bradwell B in Essex, southeast England.

French Government Delays Nuclear Energy Bill

(Reuters) The French government has postponed a bill that has the timetable for the opening and closing of power plants, government.

The delay to the bill, which was originally earlier this year, occurred because the government wanted to deal with another bill on financing railway and road projects.

The energy bill is due to set a calendar for the opening and closing down of nuclear power plants over the next decade or longer.

The previous administration committed to reducing France’s dependence on nuclear energy for electricity to 50 percent from 75 percent, which would require the closure of some reactors. France is conflicted over whether to replace its fleet of nuclear reactors as they age, or to seek other combinations of power sources. Green factions in the government have not supported the replacement scenario.

In September French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot resigned in frustration over what he said was “sluggish progress” on climate goals and nuclear energy policy.

Hulot, a former green activist, quit dramatically during a live radio interview following what he called an “accumulation of disappointments.”

He claimed that President Macron was not fulfilling his pledge to cut the share of nuclear power in French electricity to 50 percent by 2025 and to boost renewable energy.

In a burst of wishful thinking, on July 10, 2017, Hulot said on RTL Radio that France might close up to 17 nuclear reactors by 2025 in a new plan to reduce its share of nuclear power.  He did not offer a cost figure for conversion to renewable energy, but critics said it could be in excess of $200 billion.

Hulot complained that investments made in the nuclear industry, like the very expensive bailout of French nuclear company Areva, prevent money from going towards green policies and slow down the development of a renewable energy sector.

Another reason Hulot may have resigned is that the same week he quit the French government released a report calling for more nuclear reactors to be built to replace the country’s aging fleet.

According to a WNA profile of the French nuclear fleet, all of the 900 MW units (34 reactors) will hit their 40 year mark in the next five years. Given EDF’s difficulties controlling schedule and costs at Flamanville, the report may have been the last straw for Hulot. On the other hand, if EDF was building a fleet of these units, there is no question the cost per unit would come down especially as experienced mangers and workers moved from one project to the next.

Five Groups Pitch Brazil’s Eletronuclear
to Complete Angra III

(Reuters) Five groups are considering whether to partner with Brazil’s state-controlled Eletronuclear to resume construction of nuclear power plant Angra III, already partially built by the government.

The interested groups are China’s National Nuclear Corporation and State Power Investment Corporation, South Korea’s Kepco Engineering and Construction, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, known as Rosatom, and a consortium comprised of France’s Electricité de France and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries , the paper said.

Current Brazilian President Michel Temer’s government is organizing the process, but contracts would probably be signed under the administration of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who will take office in January.

Eletronuclear has said it wants to resume construction in 2020. An RFP is expected from the government in January. Brazil has a start and stop history of work on the Angra III reactor depending on whether the economy is flush or broke.  In 2016 work was stopped when the head of construction for the plant was arrested on charges of corruption.

Bulgaria to Launch Tender for Belene in December

(Reuters)  Bulgaria may launch a tender to choose a strategic investor for its Belene nuclear power project by the end of the year if the parliament gives its approval to the plan, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said.

Two Russian 1,000-MW VVER pressurized water reactor units were to be built at Belene before the project was cancelled in 2012 because of concerns over financing.

Bulgaria faces a legacy of criticism of the project, first launched in 1981, that the investment does not justify the benefits and that the project has been a source of corrupt practices for decades. In the past Westinghouse refused to bid on the project for these reasons. European Union nations, and the U.S., have pressured Bulgaria to become less dependent on Russian technology hence the periodic revival of prospects for the Belene project.

Reuters reports that Bulgaria lifted a six-year ban on a 2,000 megawatt (MW) plant at Belene in June and asked the energy minister to come up by the end of October with a procedure to choose a strategic investor for the project estimated to cost at least 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion).

Bulgaria has paid more than 620 million euros to Russia’s state nuclear giant Rosatom for scrapping the project but also received nuclear equipment for the two 1,000 MW reactors and has to decide what to do with the stuff.  It could sell it to another nation that has a deal for similar units. India is a good prospect due to it having broken ground for Units 3 &4 at Kudankulam and having started plans for Units 5 &6 also at that site. All of these reactors will be 1,000 MW VVERs.

Paying for the new plants will be a problem. The government has said it does not want to commit more public funds, extend state or corporate guarantees for any loan, or offer preferential power purchase prices for Belene.  External investor financing is hard to come by for new nuclear plants. Both Turkey and Romania have had problems raising money even with half of the financing coming from the nuclear vendors building the plants.

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GE Hitachi Tapped for Design Work on Advanced Test Reactor

prismThe Idaho National Laboratory has awarded a subcontract to GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to support the conceptual design, cost/schedule estimate and safety framework activities for a proposed fast spectrum Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).

The test reactor will be a critical facility for the development of innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.

The subcontract is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor program, which is investigating what it would take to establish a reactor-based fast-spectrum neutron irradiation capability in the United States by 2026.

Within the INL-led VTR team, engineers from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will adapt the company’s PRISM sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design to the needs of a test reactor for state-of-the art research and development purposes.

“To meet our aggressive schedule for establishing this much-needed capability in the United States, it is necessary to leverage an existing and mature sodium-cooled fast reactor design that can be modified to meet the needs of a versatile test reactor,” said INL’s Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, the executive director of VTR.

“Having a timely and detailed conceptual design is critical to generating an accurate cost and schedule estimate, which will then be key to DOE’s decision on whether to move forward in 2020.”

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Bechtel will also support the project using its expertise in project management for cost, schedule, and related management systems.

Establishing a fast spectrum test reactor ensures continued U.S. technology leadership in nuclear energy innovation. Currently, only a few capabilities are available for testing fast neutron reactor technology in the world and none in the U.S.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR program earlier this year in response to reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor, including one issued by the agency’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee (NEAC) in 2017.

In that report, NEAC recommended “that DOE-NE proceed immediately with preconceptual design planning activities to support a new test reactor (including cost and schedule estimates).”

The recommendation, in part, was based on responses from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors, many of which require different testing facilities than the commercial nuclear power technology in use today.

Also recently, Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (S.97) highlighted the need for a reactor-based fast neutron source authorizing DOE to proceed with the relevant activities.

INL is one of the U.S. DOE’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

Prior coverage of GEH PRISM on this blog

Integral Fast Reactor to Live Again at Point Lepreau, NB – link 
NRC License to be Sought for GEH PRISM Advanced Reactor – link
Southern Signs-on for Prism Advanced Reactor – link

Idaho National Laboratory Names
Science and Technology Director

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Marianne Walck, Ph.D.

Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters has announced Dr. Marianne Walck will become the laboratory’s new director for Science and Technology. Walck will also serve as chief research officer beginning January 7, 2019.

“I am excited to have Marianne join the Laboratory to provide strategic leadership, direction, and integration for research, science, and technology at INL,” said Peters.

Walck was vice president of Sandia’s California laboratory and served as lead for Sandia’s Energy and Climate Program and has over 25 years of DOE National Laboratory leadership experience.

In California, she was responsible for principal programs, including nuclear weapons stewardship.  Her work with Homeland Security focused on defending against weapons of mass destruction, combustion, transportation, and hydrogen energy research.

Sandia’s Energy and Climate Program includes a variety of technology programs including renewable energy systems, energy infrastructure, climate and engineered systems, fossil energy, nuclear and fuel cycle and transportation energy systems.

Walck received a master’s and a doctorate in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in geology/physics from Hope College.

She holds memberships in the American Geophysical Union, the Seismological Society of America, the Association for Women Geoscientists, the American Nuclear Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

She serves on several advisory boards for universities and technical institutes including the Texas A&M Energy Institute, and is a Senior Fellow of the California Council of Science and Technology.

DOE Awards $18 Million For
Advanced Nuclear Technology Projects

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced 11/13/18 funding selections for eleven domestic advanced nuclear technology projects. These projects, located across six states, will receive awards totaling $18 million in funding, with project values totaling approximately $25 million.

The projects are cost-shared and will allow industry-led teams, including participants from federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education, and other domestic entities, to advance the state of U.S. commercial nuclear capability.

The awards are through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s (NE) funding opportunity announcement (FOA) U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development.

The solicitation is broken into three funding pathways:

First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Project pathway, intended to address major advanced reactor design development projects or complex technology advancements for existing plants which have significant technical and licensing risk and have the potential to be deployed by the mid-to-late 2020s.

Advanced Reactor Development Projects pathway, which allows a broad scope of proposed concepts and ideas that are best suited to improving the capabilities and commercialization potential of advanced reactor designs and technologies.

Regulatory Assistance Grants pathway, which provide direct support for resolving design regulatory issues, regulatory review of licensing topical reports or papers, and other efforts focused on obtaining certification and licensing approvals for advanced reactor designs and capabilities.

&  The following project was selected under the FOAK Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Project pathway:

Integral and Separate Effects Test Program for the Investigation and Validation of Passive Safety System Performance of SMRs – Phase 1 Only – SMR, LLC (Camden, NJ) will develop a uniquely configurable set of testing platforms to demonstrate small modular reactor (SMR) passive safety system performance, accelerate the SMR-160 and other SMR designs to market, and help license these designs with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and international regulators.
DOE Funding: $1,624,729; Non-DOE: $1,624,729; Total Value: $3,249,458

&  The following four projects were selected under the Advanced Reactor Development Projects pathway:

Development of Cable Aging Acceptance Criteria for Nuclear Facilities – This work proposed by Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (Knoxville, TN) aims to develop acceptance criteria for mechanical, electrical, thermal, and chemical condition monitoring tests that trend with age-related degradation of electrical cables.
DOE Funding: $2,812,547; Non-DOE: $703,137; Total: $3,515,684

Modeling and Analysis of Exelon Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) for Eigenvalue & Thermal Limits Predictability – Under this proposal, Exelon Generation (Kennett Square, PA) will provide a deeper understanding of BWR core behavior (including Exelon’s 15 BWRs) using the reactor modeling tool Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications (VERA). This will lead to improved core performance predictions for BWRs including reactivity and thermal margins, which has a direct, positive economic impact in terms of cycle energy production and fuel costs.
DOE Funding: $5,000,000; Non-DOE: $1,740,000; Total Value: $6,740,000

Establishing Modular In-Chamber Electron Beam Welding – The Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, CA) will demonstrate the capability to produce large, thick-section components to support nuclear production in the United States via Modular In-Chamber Electron Beam Welding.
DOE Funding: $2,925,057; Non-DOE: $731,265; Total Value: $3,656,322

Integrated Risk-Informed Condition Based Maintenance Capability and Automated Platform – A team comprised of Public Services Enterprise & Group (PSE&G) Nuclear, LLC, Idaho National Laboratory, and Rolls-Royce North America (Moon Township, PA) will develop and perform pilot implementation of a fully integrated risk-informed condition based maintenance capability, on an automated platform.  The key outcome of this project, when implemented, is significantly reduced O&M costs associated with time-based maintenance, across the U.S. nuclear fleet.
DOE Funding: $3,567,190; Non-DOE: $891,798; Total Value: $4,458,988

&  The following project was selected under the Regulatory Assistance Grant pathway:

TEUSA-USNRC Pre-Licensing Activities for the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) – Terrestrial Energy USA (New York, NY) will conduct pre-application interactions with the US NRC to advance the progress of licensing the IMSR®.
DOE Funding: $499,232; Non-DOE: $124,808; Total Value: $624,040

Technology Vouchers

DOE has selected five companies to receive technology development vouchers under the GAIN program. The companies selected are;

  • Westinghouse Electric Company (Cranberry Township, PA) in the amount of $420,000;
  • Elysium Industries (Clifton Park, NY) in the amount of $500,000;
  • NexDefense (Atlanta, GA) in the amount of $400,000;
  • Exelon Generation (Kennett Square, PA) in the amount of $480,000; and
  • Eastman Chemical Company (Kingsport, TN) in the amount of $350,000.

& & &

“Nuclear energy plays an increasingly important role in reaching our country’s clean energy and economic goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

“These awards are prime examples of the private-public partnerships needed to help successfully develop and deploy innovative domestic nuclear technologies.”

This is the third round of funding through this FOA. The first group was announced on April 27 and the second group was announced on July 10. The total of the three rounds of awards is approximately $98 million.

The awards also include vouchers through the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative. Subsequent quarterly application review and selection processes will be conducted over the next four years.

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US Clamps Down on Nuclear Technology Exports to China

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The U.S. Energy Department (DOE), acting as the point agency for the Trump Administration, announced new policy guidance regarding China that is intended to prevent Beijing from illegally diverting nuclear technologies and materials from civil to military programs.

The policy seems unlikely to make an impact since China is essentially self-sufficient in the area of nuclear weapons. It doesn’t need U.S. civilian technologies to continue to develop its deterrent powers.

China does have a record of pilfering civilian technologies and the feds point to a 2016 case which not only involved unlicensed transfers of information on civilian nuclear fuels, but which also exposed significant gaps in China’s SMR R&D program.

Also, according to the New York Times for October 11, U.S. nuclear trade with China is almost inconsequential in terms of absolute dollars clocking in at a paltry $170M in 2017

What the policy does do is harm U.S. firms that have ongoing commercial relationships with China or which want to do business with China in the future.

What’s in the Policy?

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued new policy guidance in October saying that the government’s intent is to prevent China from using its civilian nuclear technologies to advance military goals. In particular, the national security issue is the placement of floating nuclear power plants moored to islands in the South China sea with the intent of establishing territorial controls over the region.  China broke ground on the first of 20 units at Shandong on 11/04/18,

Note the US is also exploring the development of SMRs for use at military bases to insure tactical readiness in cases where the local grid is unreliable.

The Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, FBI, Intelligence Community, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of State all participated in the U.S. policy review, which was led by the National Security Council.

Some of the basis for the policy was laid last July. Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, outlined U.S. concerns about China’s policy of “military-civil fusion.”

He said that that Beijing is working “to eliminate all barriers between its civilian and defense industrial sectors to promote the free flow” of technology and expertise. In the case of plans to use floating SMRs to secure reliable power for artificial islands in the South China sea, this is already well known plan. That the US is finally acknowledging it is a key justification for the export ban

The new DOE policy is intended to provide a framework for assessing licensing requests by US nuclear firms to do business with China. A presumption of approval will still apply to certain requests for the sale of commercially available technology or extending existing authorizations, but there will be a presumption of denial for exports to China related to small modular reactors, new technology transfers, and any requests to direct economic competitors of U.S. entities.

The vague nature of the language in the policy statements set off a scramble, among DC-based law firms and lobbyists that work in the arcane area of nuclear export controls, to explain the details to their clients and what it all means.

The policy does get specific with regard to one Chinese state-owner nuclear firm. It says there will also be a presumption of denial for licensing exports related to the China General Nuclear Power Company (CGN).

The CGN Economic Espionage Case

China General Nuclear Power was indicted in April 2016 for “conspiracy to unlawfully engage and participate in the production and development of special nuclear material outside the United States, without the required authorization.”

This is a case that involved a US citizen and former TVA engineer who subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of illegally sharing U.S. technologies with the firm.

The indictment includes a long list of technical data and analyses provided to CGN. The key information passed by Allen Ho to CGN is described as nuclear reactor outage data for use at CGN’s Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant.

Daya Bay has two 944 MWe PWR nuclear reactors based on the Framatone ANP French 900 MWe three cooling loop design, which started commercial operation in 1993 and 1994 respectively. It is located on China’s southeastern coast in Longgang District, Shenzhen. Its design is believed to have helped China with the launch of its new 1000 MW Hualong One PWR that is intended for export markets.

China is building reference units at the Fangchenggang nuclear power plant in western China. The unit is the first of two demonstration Hualong One (HPR1000) reactors being built at the site in the Guangxi Autonomous Region, about 45 kilometres from the border with Vietnam.

The technical details of the information Ho is alleged to have shared with CGN also include data to assist CGN’s work on development of its ACPR-100 small modular reactor, nuclear fuel assembly design and fabrication, and computer codes for modeling the operation of commercial nuclear reactors.

Additionally, Ho is alleged to have obtained information on advanced nuclear reactor fuels performance data, and potential damage to reactor pipes caused by abnormal water pressure events.

U.S. Industry Response Mixed

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said in a statement that “the policy framework is based on legitimate concerns,” but cautioned that careful implementation is critical to mitigate commercial harm.

“The US government has undertaken a thorough review of civil nuclear cooperation with China and developed a policy that seeks to balance national and economic security concerns with potential harms to our strategically important industry.

NEI is working with our member companies to determine the scope of commercial impact from the policy framework. Given that various nuclear technologies will be shut out of the world’s largest market that impact is clearly significant and we are reviewing this very carefully.”

The guidance, NEI said, “appears to have little effect on the approved transfer of large light water reactor technologies and components,” such as those for Westinghouse AP1000s that are now already operating in China.

Applications under 10 CFR parts 110 and 810 have been on hold since 2017, pending the policy review. DOE and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission have said they will meet with applicants “immediately” to clear the backlog of pending applications.

Even so the trade group asserted that the policy created uncertainties for its members and that some of them could be negatively impacted by it.

TerraPower Concerned about Impact of Policy on Investors

One firm that is developing an advanced nuclear reactor, and has a significant working relationship with China, is TerraPower. Marcia Burkey, senior vice president, at TerraPower, said in an email statement.

“The United States’ action potentially eliminates the predictability needed for private investors to participate in market-based solutions to meeting the world’s clean energy needs. We developed our program in close collaboration with the U.S. government. Today, we are working closely with the NNSA and DOE and will remain compliant with any new U.S. government application of the export control rules.”

TerraPower has a long record of dotting all the “i’s & t’s” needed to pursue joint technology development with Chinese firms. No doubt it expected some form of reciprocity from DOE in terms of letting the firm know in a timely manner of any changes to the agency’s export policies.

Other Firms Also See Missed Opportunities

This leads to a question of whether the policy was developed in haste without adequate consultation with stakeholders including firms already doing business in China.

NuScale, a developer of a 50MW SMR based on light water technologies. told the Morning Consult that it was not made aware in advance of the policy. NuScale has received financial assistance from DOE for design and licensing costs and is planning to build its first unit for a customer, UAMPS, at a site on the Idaho National Laboratory. One would think that the government would give stakeholders like NuScale a “heads up” and not let them be startled by news headlines.

Tom Munday, an executive with the firm, told the Morning Consult that despite being taken by surprise, the firm does not see any immediate impact of the policy though eventually it would like to sell its reactors to China.

At the Third Way, a DC think tank that has spent considerable time working on issues related to development of advanced nuclear technologies, Joshua Freed, VP of Energy Programs, told the Morning Consult that he laments the fact that the new restrictive policy on exports isn’t counter balanced by new initiatives to promote advanced nuclear technologies in domestic markets.

He makes a good point. Why would the government on one hand slam the door on exports without some moves to mitigate the impacts on US firms? The substance and roll out of the nuclear export restrictions are similar to the way the US has handled other aspects of its trade war with China. It tars with a wide brush and doesn’t appear to care who gets hurt along the way.

For instance, Trump’s trade policies killed off $36 billion in US soybean exports to China while offering US farmers just one-third of that amount in compensation.

Like the soybeans now rotting in US fields, China can get civilian nuclear technologies from a number of other countries and does not need US suppliers. So what did the US government hope to achieve? How will it slow down China’s economic espionage of US firms, which seems to be going full throttle?

For instance, on October 4th the Bloomberg wire service published an incredible story of how Chinese firms, with apparent help from their government, hacked the supply chain of a US firm that assemble high end computers for firms that do business with US defense and intelligence agencies and which also supplies these same advanced high performance servers to technology giants like Apple and Amazon.

Apple and Amazon quickly and vehamently denied that their computers were affected by the hack, but the Bloomberg wire service said its stands by its reporting.

Does the Policy Matter to China?

The answer to the question of whether the policy matters to China is that substantively it’s not very much. China has minimal reciprocal trade with the U.S. in this industry. Despite a ham-handed effort by Assistant Secretary Ford to jaw bone the U.K. over its plans to buy full size light water reactors from CGN, these deals are going forward.

CGN has a one third equity stake in the massive Hinkley Point C reactor project and is slated to build its new Hualong One PWRs at a future site in the UK.

According to an Oct 24th report by the Financial Times, the UK government defended its position as what it described as “one of the most open economies in the world” saying that foreign investment had created 76,000 new jobs in the past year.

“We welcome Chinese investment but like all inward investment it needs to satisfy our robust legal, regulatory and national security requirements. Decisions on US investment and export policy are a matter for the US government.”

In short, the UK government told Ford to take a hike. Other countries that have similar deals with China are likely to give the State Department similar answers.

China’s Hualong One is well on its way toward completing its Generic Design Review (GDR) with the UK which once achieved would establish a the basis for a license for the Bradwewll project in Essex. The 1000 MW design is slated as a replacement for two Westinghouse AP1000s originally planned for the project. As the UK sees it, that deal hinges on the huge equity stake CGN has in Hinkley Point staying put and not being disrupted by trade disputes between China and the US.

The export effort by China General Nuclear to build two of its Hualong One (HPR1000) PWR type reactors at the Bradwell site in Essex, UK met a major milestone on November 16, 2017. Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation said in a press statement that the reactor had completed stage one of the Generic Design Assessment which is a check of the readiness of the application to undergo a detailed safety review.

Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation said the Chinese HPR1000 reactor will now move to stage two of its generic design assessment – the formal process for approving a new reactor. The four-stage assessment process is expected to take around four years.

No Impact on Floating Power Plants

China’s plans for deploying floating nuclear power plants at islands in the South China Sea are firmly in the hands of its military. U.S. bans on exports of civilian technologies will not have any impact on those deployments.

According to the World Nuclear Association China is far ahead of the US in development of small modular reactors (SMRs) with multiple efforts to bring to commercial operation both light water and advanced reactors such as pebble bed fueled HTGRs.

In the end the US has made clear its displeasure with China’s practices of stealing intellectual property, but in terms of geopolitical impact on developments in the South China sea, it doesn’t look like anything will change for all the disruption the uncertainties of the DOE policy will cause to US firms.

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DOE Releases EIS for Advanced Nuclear Fuels Work at INL

The Department of Energy (DOE) has taken the next step in a daisy chain of policy and administrative actions needed to support efforts by U.S. companies to develop and deploy new reactor technologies and to have access to advanced uranium-based fuels to run them.

DOE has opened the public comment period on the draft environmental assessment for a proposal to fabricate High Assay Low Enriched Fuel (HALEU) at Idaho National Laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) and/or the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) both located on the Arco desert about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID.

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The Idaho lab’s MFC and INTEC Facilities. Note the Craters of the Moon ancient lava flows located due west of the site. The greenery to the east comprises towns and farms along the Snake River. The American Falls Reservoir is at the bottom center of the top photo.

The high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel would be fabricated from blended-down used fuel from the now-decommissioned Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which operated at the site from 1964 to 1994.

DOE has been using an electrorefiner at MFC to down-blend spent fuel that contains highly-enriched uranium material generated by EBR-II. This process produces high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) that is currently stored at INL.

DOE proposes to expand the capabilities at MFC and INTEC to convert this metallic HALEU into fuel for research and development purposes.  HALEU contains a higher enrichment (by percentage) of uranium-235 — a fissile isotope in nuclear fuel that produces energy — than fuel used in the current fleet of U.S. power reactors.  Conventional light water reactors (LWRs) use low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, (three-to-five percent uranium-235) while HALEU contains between five and 20 percent.

materials-and-fuels-complex-n

The federal government proposes fabricating approximately 10 metrics tons of HALEU nuclear reactor fuel to support near-term research, development and demonstration needs of private-sector developers and government agencies, including advanced reactor developers.

Currently, there are no commercial facilities in the U.S. immediately capable of producing HALEU, and several advanced reactor designers have expressed interest in using HALEU fuel with their designs to achieve higher efficiencies and longer core lifetimes.

“There are several U.S. companies pursuing advanced reactor designs that would use fuel enriched with higher levels of uranium-235, and need a source so they can conduct the research and development needed to bring these new technologies to market,” DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Technology Research and Development John Herczeg said in a media statement.

“Being able to provide a source of this fuel would support this research and development and aligns with the Office of Nuclear Energy’s mission to advance nuclear power as a resource capable of meeting the nation’s energy, environmental and national security needs.”

Earlier this year the US Senate approved a proposal for a $15M pilot program to demonstrate to the blending down of used HEU fuel from the USA’s naval programme to produce useable HALEU.  The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) supported the measure as well.

The draft environmental assessment (DEA) prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act is posted for public review online.

The report found that “the potential for a nuclear criticality exists due to the quantity and form of material being processed. However, engineered and administrative controls would be incorporated into the facility and process operations to prevent and mitigate worker risk associated with this hazard.”

The draft review also asserts that radiological releases during normal operations would not result in adverse health impacts.  The report added that additional waste volumes would be small compared to current disposal volumes at INL. The major portion of cleanup work at the INL is taking place at other facilities at the desert site and not at MFC.

The preferred action identified in the Environmental Assessment calls for establishing the capability at INL to fabricate HALEU ceramic and metallic fuels from the HALEU produced through the electrometallurgical treatment system currently operating at INL, and by using other small quantities of HALEU stored at INL.

World Nuclear News notes that EBR-II was a 62.5 MWt demonstration reactor, typically operating at 19 MWe, and was used to demonstrate a complete sodium-cooled breeder reactor power plant with onsite reprocessing of metallic fuel, as well as providing heat and over 2 TWh of power to the Idaho facility during its operating life.

WNN also notes EBR-II was used for testing materials and fuels for larger fast reactors and became the basis of the US Integral Fast Reactor, proving the concept of fuel recycling and passive plant safety characteristics.

Several small modular reactor designs currently under development reference EBR-II, including Advanced Reactor Concepts’s ARC-100 integral fast reactor and GE-Hitachi’s PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor which is now working with Southern Nuclear.

The final assessment is expected to be issued as early as December, according to a handout DOE gave to Butte County commissioners earlier this month.

The Idaho Falls Post Register reported that Karin Brown, management/program analyst for DOE-Idaho, told the Butte County Commissioners, “Money has come through Congress on this to help with this. It’s a pretty exciting piece of work that we’ll be able to move forward with.”

The public comment period will last through 11/30/18. Comments can be emailed to haleu@id.doe.gov, or mailed to David Herrin, 1955 Fremont Ave., Idaho Falls ID 83415-1222. Paper copies of the proposal are also available on request.

Did you Know How MFC Got Its Name?

The name of the Materials Fuels Complex (MFC) used to be Argonne West (ANL-W) when the facility was operated by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and the University of Chicago. In 2005 DOE consolidated contractor accounts for the lab and merged ANL-West with the rest of the INL’s R&D operations.

coc chip cookies

But how did the name MFC come about? Legend has it that when the site was ANL-W the cafeteria there used to bake excellent chocolate chip cookies, and also other flavors,  every day at about 2 PM.

Workers at the site, wanting to have a living memory of the site’s tradition, voted for MFC, not because it stands for Materials Fuels Complex, but because it really means “mighty fine cookies.”

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Puerto Rico Group Seeks SMRs for Island Electric Power

Puerto Rican Engineers and US Executives Explore Opportunities for Small Modular Reactors to Reinvent Puerto Rico’s Energy Infrastructure

nap logoThe Nuclear Alternative Project, a volunteer-based organization composed of University of Puerto Rico alumni, in partnership with the United Nuclear Industry Alliance (UNIA), based in Mayaguex, PR, is bringing together a high powered panel of nuclear vendors for a first-ever meeting on October 30 with local leadership and discuss the economic feasibility of small modular reactors (SMRs) and their potential to address Puerto Rico’s energy needs.

The United Industry Alliance is an alliance of supply chain vendors providing systems, components, and services to the nuclear industry.  The Nuclear Alternatives Project seeks to bring the advances in nuclear technology to communities via community engagement strategies.

In September 2017 a major hurricane devastated Puerto Rico and its electrical grid. Rebuilding it to provide reliable power is a major challenge to the island which is part of the U.S.  Advocates for SMRs believe that this technology can and should be a part of the rebuilding program.

Advocates for SMRs Think They Would Work in Puerto Rico

Small modular nuclear reactor technologies are smaller-scale—between 50 MW and 300 MW—and described by their proponents as safer than conventional reactors. However, they currently aren’t expected to be on the U.S. market until at least the mid-2020s, with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewing NuScale Power LLC’s application for its technology.

In addition to NuScale’s light water technology design there are dozens of nuclear energy startups seeking success with advanced designs.

For many years, the option of nuclear power has been proposed for Puerto Rico to diversify the Island’s energy sources and reduce costs of electricity, says Eddie M. Guerra, Senior Engineer with Arup.

“However, this time is different: Advances in SMRs make it ideal for island-type territories and there are hundreds of Puerto Rican engineers with nuclear expertise who can’t wait to contribute to their hometown’s revitalization”

“There are so many University of Puerto Rico graduates working in nuclear energy, and I’m one of them, responsible for nuclear safety at our plant.” says Angel Reyes, Senior Program Manager for Exelon Nuclear Generation at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

“This initiative is so exciting for many like me with a nuclear background who are looking to contribute to Puerto Rico’s future!”

“In my more than 45 years in the nuclear industry I haven’t seen such excitement from a group of young engineers passionate to transform their communities” Says Donald Hoffman, President and CEO of United Nuclear Industry Alliance and Excel Services.

He added, “This is why the U.S. nuclear industry is supporting this group of engineers 100 percent to go to Puerto Rico and meet with local leadership to discuss the potential of small modular reactors for the Island.”

Background on Ideas for SMRs for Puerto Rico

DOE Secretary Discusses SMRs for the Island’s Grid

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry discussed the idea of SMRs as an alternative to reinvent Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure.

In September 2017 DOE Secretary Rick Perry spoke about the potential of deploying national lab innovations in Puerto Rico during a panel discussion at a Sept. 26 National Clean Energy Week event in Washington, D.C.

“Wouldn’t it make abundant good sense if we had small modular reactors that literally you could put in the back of C-17 [military cargo] aircraft, transport it to an area like Puerto Rico, and push it out the back end, crank it up and plug it in?” he asked.

“That’s the type of innovation that’s going on at our national labs. Hopefully, we can expedite that,” he said.

Commerce Dept Outlines Proposal for SMRs
in Puerto Rico in Position Paper

In March 2018 the U.S. Department of Commerce Civil Nuclear Trade Advisory Committee (CINTAC) published a position paper outlining the economic and export potential of SMRs for Puerto Rico. Many leading voices sees nuclear energy as a promising way to provide Puerto Rico with clean, reliable power.

In its cover letter the group wrote,

“The aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria has launched a movement to transform the island’s energy infrastructure into a more reliable, environmentally friendly and sustainable one.”

“Today’s SMR designs present the technological advances specially tailored for energy challenges of island-type territories like Puerto Rico. For instance, some SMR designs are built underground which could also potentially increase the island’s energy security in future hurricane situations.”

“For decades Puerto Rico’s stakeholders have looked for options to reduce the island’s high cost of electricity. SMRs could provide an initial Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) which could compete with the island’s high cost of electricity generated by imported diesel fuels.”

Conference Speakers and Registration Details

A short list of participants in the October 30th meeting include key U.S. nuclear industry leaders,

  • Jeffrey Harper, VP, X-Energy
  • Jose Reyes, CTO, NuScale
  • Abdul Dullo, Director, Plant Technology, Westinghouse,
  • David Sledzik, SVP, Nuclear, Hitachi

Event Date: 10/30/18
To attend go to the Registration Link

Location:
Universidad de Puerto Rico –
Mayagüez PR-108, Mayagüez, 00682, Puerto Rico  (map)

Live Stream:
The panel discussion can be accessed through a live stream at: https://www.uprm.edu/inci/

The link will be up starting at 10:30 AM on Oct 30th. (Atlantic Standard Time)

Also, in the event the university home page loads first in Spanish, at the bottom of the page is an option to reload the page in English. The panel discussions will be conducted in English.

More Information

Jesabel Rivera, MPH, CHES
Community Impact & Engagement
Phone: 412-961-2001
Email: jesabel@nuclearalternativeproject.org
For more information visit www.nuclearalternativeproject.org

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Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments