US HTGR Developer X-Energy to Go Public

  • X-Energy to Go Public
  • BWXT Starts Production of TRISO Fuel for Project Pele
  • Kairos Power, Los Alamos Collaborate to Make TRISO fuel
  • DOE Selects Two Partners To Engage Communities On Nuclear Energy

X-Energy to Go Public

The X-Energy Reactor Company, LLC, a developer of small modular nuclear reactors and TRISO fuel technology for clean energy generation, and Ares Acquisition Corporation (NYSE:AAC), a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company, announced that they have entered into a definitive business combination agreement.

The combination will establish X-Energy as a publicly-traded, developer of an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) and proprietary TRISO fuel that supports clean energy and broader industrial applications. X-Energy’s entry into the public markets is expected to accelerate its growth strategy through additional investment opportunities and financial flexibility as well as differentiated sponsorship by Ares Management Corporation.

Upon the closing of the transaction, the combined company will be named X-Energy, Inc., and its common equity securities and warrants will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
>> X-Energy Presentation (49 slides – PDF file)

Note: A special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is a company without commercial operations and is formed strictly to raise capital through an initial public offering (IPO) for the purpose of acquiring or merging with an existing company.

About X-Energy

X-Energy is advancing nuclear energy generation through its latest-generation high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), the Xe-100, and its proprietary tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) encapsulated particle fuel, TRISO-X.

The Xe-100 can also uniquely address a broader range of uses and applications compared with conventional nuclear reactors. This specifically includes applications that currently rely on fossil fuels to produce steam and heat for processes like manufacturing, petroleum refining and hydrogen production.

xe-100

The company’s reactor development efforts are supported by $1.2 billion of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program  (ARDP – Infographic) and a growing pipeline of potential global customers. The federal funding is intended to provide significant financial support for the delivery of a first-of-a-kind commercial advanced nuclear plant and TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility.

The firm said in a press statement it estimates pre-money equity value of approximately $2 billion for X-Energy with existing company equity holders rolling 100% of their interests into the combined company. Institutional and strategic investors have invested or committed $120 million in financing, which includes $75 million from Ares Management and $45 million from Ontario Power Generation and Segra Capital Management. They join existing strategic investors Dow and Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

X-Energy’s prospective customer pipeline includes approximately 30 potential unique customers across a variety of use cases and geographies covering the North America and Europe. Some customer profiles remain confidential at this time. Key examples of publicly disclosed investments include:

Doosan – On 12/12/22 the Korea Times reported Doosan, DL consortium to invest $130 million in X-Energy for it HTGR reactor.  Doosan and DL E&C, as strategic investors, have participated in a fund created by Whale Investment Co., a Korean private equity firm. With the equity purchase, Doosan and DL E&C will also likely take on machine manufacturing as well as engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects of X-Energy’s small modular reactor (SMR) business.

OPG – Ontario Power Generation Inc. (OPG) is one of one of North America’s nuclear energy power producers. A framework agreement signed in July 2022 commits the two firms to pursue opportunities to deploy Xe-100 advanced reactors in Ontario at industrial sites and identify further potential end users and sites throughout Canada.

Dow – A letter of intent was signed in August 2022 to build the Xe-100 and provide cost-competitive, carbon-free process heat and power to a Dow facility on the Gulf Coast. This is the first time a US-based industrial manufacturer has announced its intention to deploy SMRs in its operations.

ARDP Site – Grant County Public Utility District (WA) and Energy Northwest signed a memorandum of understanding with X-Energy in April 2021 to support the development and commercial demonstration of the first advanced nuclear reactor in the U.S. The project is funded under the cost shared ARDP program by DOE.

triso fuelTRISO Fuel Facility – On 10/13/22 TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Energy, broke ground and began construction activities on North America’s first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The project will represent an investment of approximately $300 million. TF3 is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025.

Legislation – In 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act a provide tax credits of up to 50% of initial capital costs for advanced nuclear reactors. The new U.S. government support will meaningfully accelerate the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors

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BWXT Starts Production of TRISO Fuel for Project Pele

BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:BWXT) announced it has begun production of TRISO nuclear fuel that will power the first microreactor built and operated in the United States.

Under a $37 million award from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), BWXT will manufacture a core for Project Pele, TRISO fuel for additional reactors and coated particle fuel for NASA.

INL administers the contract and provides the technical support and oversight. Fuel for the reactor will be downblended from U.S. government stockpiles of high-enriched uranium (HEU) to high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) and fabricated into TRISO fuel at the BWXT facility in Lynchburg, Virginia. BWXT facilities are the only private U.S. facilities licensed to possess and process HEU.

The Department of Energy (DOE) calls TRISO “the most robust nuclear fuel on earth.” The small, energy-dense coated uranium particles can withstand high temperatures, enabling smaller and more advanced reactor designs.

triso cutaway“TRISO particle fuel is ideal for the next generation of reactors poised to help us meet our country’s clean energy goals,” said U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathryn Huff.

“It is extremely exciting to see decades of DOE’s investments in TRISO fuel’s robust safety performance paying off to power many of the most innovative advanced reactor designs to be deployed within this decade.”

The Project Pele microreactor is designed to be capable of being safely transported in standard-sized shipping containers. Microreactors are designed to reduce the need for vulnerable fossil fuel deliveries relied on by the U.S. military, and also to provide power for disaster response and recovery, power generation in remote areas and deep decarbonization efforts.

“TRISO fuel is capable of providing years of zero-carbon 24/7 energy in a safe and rugged form, with strategic implications for the DoD toward both its energy resilience and climate-change goals,” SCO Director Jay Dryer said.

BWXT has expanded its specialty coated fuels production manufacturing capacity through previously announced awards funded by the DOD Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and NASA and program management provided by SCO.

In addition to TRISO, BWXT also produces specialty coated fuels for NASA in support of its space nuclear propulsion project within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“The high efficiency and high thrust provided by nuclear propulsion makes it an enabling capability for human missions to Mars,” said Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate James L. Reuter. “Advancing nuclear fuels and systems are key to achieving our exploration goals at Mars.”

About TRISO Fuel

TRISO stands for TRIstructural ISOtropic. TRIstructural refers to the three layers of carbon and ceramic materials that surround kernels or balls of HALEU fuel. ISOtropic means the coatings have uniform characteristics in all directions.

Fuel particles, each the size of a poppy seed, are enriched to a level four times higher than fuel used in most of today’s commercial nuclear reactors. The coatings retain fission products, making each particle its own containment system. They also protect the fuel from the factors that most degrade performance in conventional reactors – neutron irradiation, corrosion, oxidation and high temperatures.

About Project Pele

BWXT Advanced Technologies announced in June that it was selected by the Department of Defense Strategic Capabilities Office (DoD SCO) to manufacture and deliver the Project Pele prototype microreactor to INL. The fuel will be delivered to the lab separately.

project pele

BWXR will construct an inherently safe by design nuclear microreactor capable of being transported by the DOD and able to deliver 1-5 MWe of electrical power for a minimum of three years and for as long as five years of full power operation. This reactor will be assembled and initially operated at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and will be the first electricity-generating Generation IV nuclear reactor built in the United States.

The Pele reactor is to be a single prototype, which will be demonstrated only within the United States, under the safety oversight of the Department of Energy. A decision by the DOD on whether or not to transition the technology and to use it operationally will be made at a future date.

& & &

Kairos Power, Los Alamos Collaborate to Make TRISO fuel

(WNN) TRISO fuel pebbles for the Kairos Power Hermes demonstration reactor will be produced at the New Mexico lab’s Low Enriched Fuel Fabrication Facility (LEFFF). This is the first nuclear iteration in Kairos Power’s “rapid iterative approach” to nuclear fuel development as well as the first nuclear fuel development campaign for LEFFF.

California-based Kairos Power is working to commercialize its fluoride salt-cooled, high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR) technology using a rapid iterative development approach. An application for a construction permit for the Hermes demonstration reactor – to be built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – is currently undergoing formal review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

KAIROS Reactor

Kairos said the “synergistic partnership” combines its fuel manufacturing expertise with Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) facilities and capabilities. It is facilitated by the lab’s proximity to Kairos’s testing and manufacturing facility in Albuquerque,NM, where the company is working to develop manufacturing processes that will be implemented in the LEFFF.

Ed Blandford, Kairos Power’s chief technology officer, said Kairos and LANL employees will work side-by-side at LEFFF to produce fuel pebbles for the reactor.

“The partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory will be the catalyst for Kairos Power to build a credible path to manufacture fuel at industrial scale for KP-FHR technology starting with our Hermes demonstration reactor.”

Micah Hackett, the company’s senior director of fuels and materials said, “Iterative prototyping and innovation from the company’s Pebble Development Lab and its soon-to-be-commissioned TRISO Development Lab will be integral to the collaborative work.”

“With these early iterations, we are optimizing our processes and learning valuable lessons that will carry forward into our nuclear fuel program.”

Manufacturing fuel for Hermes in partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory will allow Kairos Power to better control product quality, schedule, and cost, and yield experience that will inform future iterations in its nuclear fuel development program and future investments in a robust and reliable supply chain.

LEFFF is a multi-disciplinary customer user facility designed to support multiple nuclear fuel development campaigns, and Kairos is its first partner.

“The facility is a critical tool for the nation to mature fuel technology for the advancement of clean energy,” LEFFF Team Leader Timothy Coons said.

“LEFFF’s mission is to provide the necessary utilities and authorization basis for a multi-disciplinary set of customers to mature and accelerate their fuel needs. This first partnership between LEFFF and Kairos Power demonstrates the commitment of both organizations to accelerate advanced clean energy solutions.”

TRISO – standing for TRIstructural-ISOtropic – fuel comprises spherical kernels of enriched uranium oxycarbide (or uranium dioxide) surrounded by layers of carbon and silicon carbide, giving a containment for fission products which is stable up to very high temperatures. Hermes will use “pebbles” of fuel made from TRISO particles.

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DOE Selects Two Partners To Engage Communities On Nuclear Energy

* $800,000 Awarded to Expand Coordination and Engagement with Energy Communities, Educational Entities, and Underserved Constituencies

eco logoThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the Energy Communities Alliance, Inc. (ECA) and American Nuclear Society (ANS) a combined $800,000 to connect with communities across the United States and establish education and outreach opportunities in nuclear energy.

ECA and ANS will emphasize energy justice and prioritize their work in localities impacted by or interested in deploying advanced reactors. Nuclear power currently provides 50 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity.

“This program is an essential step in expanding engagement with communities interested in nuclear power and its role in helping achieve our country’s clean energy goals,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.

“It is equally imperative that we incorporate environmental and energy justice in these efforts as we aim to ensure that the benefits of clean energy projects are equitably delivered to all.”

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy will collaborate with ECA and ANS to work with energy communities, educational entities, and other constituents to further its shared mission to advance nuclear energy’s role in addressing energy, environmental, and economic needs. These energy partnerships will help provide unique perspectives and innovative ideas on topics related to the management of spent nuclear fuel, clean energy equity, and STEM education.

ECA will receive $600,000 to engage with local governments and communities on outreach activities to advance the development of nuclear energy technologies and policies. ECA will also identify resources and key stakeholders for communities and help facilitate meaningful conversations between NE and local governments on topics ranging from advanced reactor deployment to spent nuclear fuel management.

ans logoANS will receive approximately $200,000 to broaden the diversity and reach of professional development opportunities for educators, particularly those teaching underserved students. It will also help build a diverse workforce, engage communities in locations impacted by nuclear projects, and increase awareness and knowledge of policymakers about nuclear energy and its benefits.

The Administration is using approximately $480,000 in fiscal year 2022 funds for this program. Each award extends over a two-year performance period. Funding for all awards and future budget periods is contingent upon Congressional appropriations and the availability of future-year budget authority.

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UK Govt Invests £700M in Sizewell C Nuclear Reactors

  • UK Govt Invests £700M in Sizewell C Nuclear Reactors
  • CEZ Gets Three Bidders for New Dukovany Nuclear Reactor
  • ARC SMR Proposed for Green Energy Hub at Canadian Port
  • Centrus Energy Inks HALEU Contract with DOE
  • First Light Fusion Targets 60 MW Pilot Plant for Tritium Production

UK Govt Invests £700M in Sizewell C Nuclear Reactors

investment(NucNet) Fulfilling a pledge made by former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK government this week confirmed it will make a £700M ($839 million) equity investment in the Sizewell C twin 1600 MW nuclear reactors. EDF will also hold a 20% stake. Private investors are being sought to cover the remaining project equity.

The two reactors will cost an estimated £20 billion and will be supplied by French state-owned enterprise EDF which will also serve as the engineering procurement and construction (EPC) lead for the project. It is expected to take up to a decade to complete both plants.

Funding for the project was signed off by Boris Johnson at the start of September in one of his last acts as prime minister and confirmed by the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt.

Simone Rossi, CEO of EDF Energy said the go-ahead is “a big vote of confidence in Sizewell C and we are very excited the government is partnering with us to prepare the project for further investment.”

RAB Method for Funding

After several years of bureaucratic dithering, and wishful thinking about how much risk the private sector would accept for investing in a new nuclear power plant, the UK government has finally recognized reality.

UK Business Minister Grant Shapps is reported to have agreed to use the regulated asset base (RAB) model to fund the project which will be part of the process of attracting private investors for the project. Under the RAB model developers will be able to recover costs from rate payers as the projects meets development milestones and, presumably, recover any cost overruns as well.

Controlling Costs and Keeping Schedules

Sizewell C will replicate the design of the Hinkley Point C twin-EPR project with “more certainty over schedule and costs” according to EDF. Hinkley Point C has been under construction since 2018, but has experienced delays and higher costs since it broke ground. Some of the costs and delays are attributable to the impact of the COVID pandemic on the workforce.

On that issue, Franck Gbaguidi, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm, told the New York Times, “Expect severe delays, significant cost overruns and a serious lack of skilled workers.”

The Times also reported that EDF said it would leverage that experience and the trained work force at Hinkley Point to reduce costs at Sizewell C. However, Mr. Gbaguidi, told the Times he was not impressed. He said EDF might struggle to achieve that result because it was “currently overwhelmed with existing and planned projects in France.”

He’s got a point. EDF is currently very busy and the firm’s new CEO Luc Remont has a lot on his plate. A few of the hot potatoes Remont must deal with include;

  • The firm is completing a 1600 MW EPR at the Flamanville site. The project has experienced significant schedule delays and cost overruns. It is expected to be completed in 2023.
  • An EPR in Finalnd has two busted feed water pumps. EDF is still trying to figure out why they broke down. The plant will be out of service until the problem is fixed.
  • EDF is also struggling to bring back multiple operating nuclear reactors in the French fleet that are offline due to maintenance issues. Some won’t make it back online as winter sets in. Power shortages are forecast as a result.
  • Separately, French President Macron has tasked EDF to build eight new EPRs in France and to break ground for the first unit by 2027. Mobilizing components, materials and a workforce along with everything else that is going on will make EDF one of the biggest construction related employers in France for the next two decades. Tens of thousands of jobs will ride on its success or failure.

China Out, Bradwell Cut Adrift

At the same time it is investing in Sizewell C, the UK government is removing China General Nuclear (CGN), a Chinese state-owned enterprise, from having a 20% equity stake in the project and is also cancelling its plans to build one and perhaps three 1000 MW PWR type Chinese Hualong One nuclear reactors at the Bradwell site. According to UK news media reports, the UK government paid China’s CGN £10 million to exit the project. CGN retains its equity position in the Hinkley Point C project which is under construction.

The Bloomberg wire service reported Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman Max Blain was asked by reporters if the decision to remove Chinese involvement in Sizewell would mean no future involvement in the UK’s energy supply.

“We would need to make a judgment on what’s right for the UK I think we wouldn’t do anything to put UK security at risk and indeed our focus is on enhancing our energy independence,” Blain said.

No replacement developer has been named for Bradwell but former PM Johnson called for eight new full size reactors. With two new units at Sizewell, it is possible one of the remaining six could wind up at Bradwell. The UK also has to find and fund developers for the Wylfa, Oldbury, and Moorside reactor projects which represent the equivalent of seven full size reactors.

British Energy for British Homes

The London-based Nuclear Industry Association said the decision to invest in Sizewell C is “a defining moment” for Britain’s energy security and marks a big step forward for one of the UK’s most important green infrastructure projects.

Business and energy secretary Grant Shapps said global gas prices are at record highs, caused by “Putin’s illegal march on Ukraine.” He said, “We need more clean, affordable power generated within our borders – British energy for British homes.”

In recent years the UK has generated about 15% of its power from its fleet of commercial nuclear power plants, but most are being retired this decade, with the last one – Sizewell B – due to close in 2035.

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CEZ Gets Three Bidders for New Dukovany Nuclear Reactor

  • Final bids are due next year and contract with winning technology provider could be awarded by 2024

(NucNet) France’s EDF, South Korea’s Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) and US-based group Westinghouse Electric have made initial bids to build a new reactor unit at the Czech Republic’s Dukovany nuclear power station.

CEZ said Elektrárna Dukovany II, the wholly owned subsidiary set up to implement the new-build project, will now analyze the bids and negotiate with the three bidders. The bidders will then submit final bids in September 2023. Majority state-owned CEZ, which launched the Dukovany expansion tender in March, said it expects the contracts to be awarded in 2024.

The initial bids are the basis for clarifying technical and commercial parameters, but not for the actual selection or exclusion of contractors,

EDF’s reactor technology is the EPR, KHNP’s the APR-1400 and Westinghouse’s the AP1000. All three reactor types have seen commercial operation or are under construction in different countries.

Two EPRs and four AP1000s are commercially operational in China, while the APR-1400 is operated commercially in South Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Additionally, a EPR new build project is near completion at Flamanville in France, while construction is under way of two EPR units at Hinkley Point C in England. Two APR-1400s are in the commissioning stage and two are operating commercially at Barakah in the UAE.

China And Russia Excluded From Bidding

State-owned companies from China and Russia were excluded from bidding on security grounds, in contrast to Hungary which has chosen Russia’s Rosatom for its nuclear project. Poland recently chose Westinghouse for the construction of the country’s first nuclear power station near its Baltic Sea coastline. Poland also chose KHNP for a nuclear power station at a separate site.

CEZ plans to build three more nuclear units – on top of the one now planned – at its Dukovany and Temelín nuclear sites, as the country diversifies away from coal. Financing for these ambitious plans is still to be determined.

The company said recently that preparations were underway for the construction of two large-scale nuclear units at Temelín in addition to one or two new units at Dukovany.

CEZ is also planning to build small modular reactor plants. It signed MOUs to explore various SMR technology options with reactor developers NuScale, GE Hitachi, Rolls-Royce and Holtec.

The Czech Republic has six commercially operational reactor units: four Russian supplied VVER units at Dukovany and two larger Russian VVER-1000 units at Temelín. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2019 the six units provided about 35% of the country’s electricity production.

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ARC SMR Proposed for Green Energy Hub at Canadian Port

(WNN) The Belledune Port Authority (BPA) wants to use advanced small modular reactor (SMR) technology as part of a future expansion at the port in northern New Brunswick province. It says an ARC-100 SMR providing energy for hydrogen production and other industries could be in operation by 2030-2035.

arc-100_thumbThe BPA has announced it is working with project development company Cross River Infrastructure Partners on the proposal to use ARC Clean Technology Canada’s (ARC) reactor design to generate zero-emission firm heat and power for industrial users at the port’s recently announced Green Energy Hub.

Cross River has agreed to develop a hydrogen facility powered by green-certified energy, e.g., nuclear reactors, that would produce ammonia fuel for export, which is to be located at the Green Energy Hub.

The SMR project for an ARC-100 unit to serve as an energy source for expanded other industries based at the port, such as metal fabrication and advanced manufacturing.

The ACR is an 100 MW advanced sodium-cooled fast neutron SMR, which is based on the EBR-II / Integral Fast Reactor. The sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype operated at the USA’s Argonne National Laboratory site in Idaho from 1961 until 1994.

“One of the key advantages of the ARC reactors is their ability to provide a tremendous amount of high temperature steam and power in a small space,” Cross River CEO Andrew Wilder said.

“As they are utilizing proven technology, we believe the ARC-100 is the best advanced nuclear reactor to provide as an energy solution for heavy industry.”

The ARC-100 has also been selected for a demonstration project at New Brunswick Power’s  Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site as part of a joint strategic plan for SMR deployment set out earlier this year by the provincial governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta Canada’s SMR Roadmap. The demonstration unit is slated for commissioning by 2029, subject to approvals and licensing.

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Centrus Energy Inks HALEU Contract with DOE

  • The Firm will Complete HALEU Cascade Construction and Produce HALEU for Up to 10 Years

Uranium symbolCentrus Energy Corp. (NYSE:LEU) announced that its wholly-owned subsidiary, American Centrifuge Operating LLC (ACO), has signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to pioneer production of High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) at its facility leased from DOE in Piketon, Ohio.

ACO was selected for the competitively-awarded contract by the Department of Energy on November 10, 2022.  As part of a previous, cost-shared contract awarded in 2019, Centrus has been deploying its AC100M advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in Piketon and has secured a license amendment from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, making it the only NRC-licensed HALEU production site.

“Centrus is strongly committed to pioneering production of HALEU to support the deployment of the next generation of reactors and help meet the surging global demand for carbon-free energy,” said Daniel B. Poneman, Centrus President and CEO.

HALEU is an advanced nuclear fuel required for most of the next-generation reactor designs currently under development. Nine of the ten advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, including the two demonstration reactors, will rely on HALEU, as will the first non-light water reactor to enter licensing review by the NRC.

The output of the Piketon, OH, plant will be HALEU uranium in UF6 form enriched to 19.5% U235. From there it will go to a conversion plant in Illinois which will then ship the uranium in various solid forms to fuel fabrication plants to make the final fuel types needed for each specific type of advanced reactor. One of them is the TerraPower Natirum reactor which will use a uranium metal fuel. The other is X-Energy’s X-100 HTGR which will use TRISO fuel. Both firms are building their own fuel fabrication plants funded in part by DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

The base contract value is approximately $150 million in two phases through 2024. Phase One includes an approximately $30 million cost share contribution from Centrus matched by approximately $30 million from the Department to finish construction, bring the cascade online, and demonstrate production of 20 kilograms of 19.75% enriched HALEU by December 31, 2023.

In Phase Two of the contract, ACO will continue production for a full year at an annual production rate of 900 kilograms of HALEU. DOE will own the HALEU produced from the demonstration cascade, and Centrus will be compensated on a cost-plus-incentive-fee basis, with an expected Phase Two contract value of approximately $90 million, subject to appropriations.

The contract also gives the Department options to pay for up to nine additional years of production from the cascade beyond the base contract; those options are at the Department’s sole discretion and subject to the availability of Congressional appropriations.

Expanding to Commercial Scale Production

Separate from the operations contract, Centrus could scale up the Piketon facility with additional centrifuge cascades for expanded HALEU production – given sufficient additional funding or offtake contracts.

A full-scale HALEU cascade with a capacity of approximately 6,000 kilograms of HALEU per year (6 MTU/year) could be brought on line within about 42 months of securing the funding to do so; an additional cascade could be added every six months after that.

Such an expansion would mobilize hundreds of union workers in Ohio to build and operate the plant and support thousands of direct and indirect jobs across a manufacturing supply chain that is 100 percent domestic.

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First Light Fusion Targets 60 MW Pilot Plant for Tritium Production

firstlightlogoOxford, UK:  First Light Fusion announced a new technical partnership with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory in Chalk River, Ontario, aimed at building a pilot fusion energy plant which addressed the need for tritium fuel. The proposed 60 MW pilot plant, which is expected to cost $570 million to develop, will produce two kilograms of tritium a year.

First Light has partnered with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for the preliminary design of a system capable of extracting tritium from the First Light reactor, as well as the development of tritium processing and storage options.

The proposed 60 MWe pilot plant is being designed to resolve the risks of building a first-of-a-kind fusion plant, especially engineering and cost issues. The plant will be designed to produce tritium which will generate revenue for the firm.

Addressing the Need for Tritium

Central to the design of the pilot plant is the recognition of the need to address the requirement for new tritium production. The need for tritium and deuterium for the fusion reaction is universal across all fusion technologies.

Deuterium is both cheap and abundant, extracted from seawater. However, tritium exists naturally only in trace amounts in the upper atmosphere, the product of cosmic ray bombardment. Though nuclear reactors also produce tiny amounts, it is not generally “harvested”.

Tritium is far more valuable than electricity, priced at $30,000 per gram currently, making it a very valuable substance.

A number of fusion pioneers, including First Light’s projectile approach, include tritium breeding into their models. However, the challenge of tritium production has forced some fusion concepts to consider much more challenging fuels that avoid the use of tritium, significantly increasing the physics risk.

Dr. Nick Hawker, Co-founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, said: “Our pilot plant is designed to prove the integrated engineering for electricity generation and manufacture of tritium. We recognize the need to address the shortage of tritium. By accelerating our plan for a pilot plant, we are directly addressing this key barrier to the more widespread take up of fusion power, while also building an immediate and sizeable revenue stream into our business model.”

How the Plant will Make Tritium

One of the key features of deuterium-tritium fueled fusion power plant designs is the ability to purposely produce tritium in the reactor, which is then used as reactor fuel. First Light Fusion said the proposed pilot plant is expected to cost about $570 million to develop and will produce about 2 kilograms of tritium per year.

First Light’s inertial confinement approach aims to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing a target using a hypervelocity projectile. Its plant design avoids the three biggest engineering challenges of fusion: preventing neutron damage, producing tritium, and managing extreme heat flux.

First Light’s “liquid lithium wall” approach, inside the reactor chamber where the fusion reaction will take place, gives it an advantage in tritium production. The fusion reaction is surrounded by liquid lithium, allowing tritium self-sufficiency to be easily reached, and making it possible to design for excess tritium production.

First Light believes that by accelerating the development of a smaller pilot plant that also provides a steady tritium supply, this will stimulate the faster roll out of fusion power, and provide a shorter time frame between pilot plant and commercial fusion.

Why CNL is Involved in Fusion

CNL said in a press statement the tritium extraction system represents an essential part of tritium control in a fusion fuel cycle, and is a key factor in harvesting the tritium and limiting tritium permeation into the coolant.

“This is of fundamental significance for reactor licensing and safety, and demonstrates the fusion reactor self-sufficiency in terms of tritium production and consumption.”

CNL will also prepare recommendations for future laboratory work that could lead to the production of testing equipment used to validate the systems in a laboratory environment.

Second Fusion Project for CNL

In November, Canadian National Laboratories (CNL) and General Fusion signed an MOU to pursue a series of joint projects to accelerate the deployment of commercial fusion power in Canada. Funding was not indicated as being included in the initial agreement.

CNL and General Fusion will collaborate on projects in key areas, including feasibility studies, regulatory framework, power plant siting and deployment, infrastructure design, and testing and operations support. Overall, the aim is to develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a potential General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.

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How Fast Will Fusion’s Promise Come True?

How Fast Will Fusion’s Promise Come True?

types of fusion tech

According to the 2022 report of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA), there are three dozen fusion energy startups which in total are attracting billions of dollars in investor commitments.

Clearly, people who are very smart, and have a lot of money to put down on energy investments, are betting that the promise of fusion will be realized within the next decade or two. However, the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA) is targeting operation of its first prototype in the early 2040s so timelines differ. This is a big improvement over the almost comical estimate of past decades that fusion is still 50 years in the future. Obviously, something has changed.

The private sector thinks the shorter timelines are more likely as indicated by how much money is flowing into the fusion industry. According to surveys of investments in fusion companies cited by FIA, by the end of 2022 the total in 2022 is estimated to be approximately $4.7 to $5.0 billion in investment that went into private sector fusion firms. Not all investments have been made public. Many of the firms that have received theses funds have follow-on commitments from investors based on making progress to meet specific technical milestones.

Despite the confidence of asset managers in committing funds, no fusion company in 2022 has what is loosely called a “shovel ready” technical design that can be sold to a commercial electric generation utility. The best estimates of experts who have looked at the fusion energy startup are that commercial projects will be ready by the mid-2030s or possibly sooner according to some of the industry leaders.

Fusion v. Fission?

Most of the fusion designs coming off the drawing boards, compared to large, full size nuclear reactors that can produce 1,000 MW of electrical power, are actually in the range of small modular reactors (SMRs) e/g., less than 300 MW. Unlike small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), based on fission of uranium, few of the planned fusion plants have designs that will cost less than $1 billion

While many of the SMR fission designs are also still, for the most part, in the development stages, the expected cost of 100 MW SMR at $4,500/Kw comes in at $450 million. The competitive issue relative to fusion is one of apples and oranges in some instances, but one clear difference is that the fusion designs can deliver, according to some estimates, four times the power of comparable nuclear fission reactors. Also, fusion plants don’t have the safety risks of meltdowns and radioactive waste disposal problems of fission designs.

Key Challenges

Key technical challenges facing fusion developers fall in three broad categories that have to be solved in a definitive manner.

  • Producing and maintaining a self-heating burning plasma
  • Developing materials that can withstand neutron bombardment over the plant’s lifetime, e.g., 40-60 years or longer
  • Getting the plasma heat out of the fusion space to generate electricity or for industrial process heat

Two key types of design approaches are common among the three dozen firms described in the FIA report. The first is the Tokamak which uses bursts of power. There are several different approaches to Tokamaks to achieve these results. Apparently, there are multiple methods to achieve 50 to 100 million degree Celsius of plasma heat. The second design concept is the stellarator which is a steady state design. Industry experts tell this blog the design will be more challenging to build, but if successful, may be easier to operate.

Key enabling technologies cited by several of the tokamak developers include;

  • Advances in 3D printing that make for quicker and cheaper components
  • Development of super conducting magnets to control the plasma but not all tokamaks use magnets
  • Super computing to calculate best methods and engineering designs for creating and sustaining the plasma
  • Advanced materials need for the construction of fusion machines
  • New control room instruments and operator interfaces needed for fusion machines

Ten Tough Questions for Fusion Developers

Because fusion developers are in a race to develop unique, first of a kind fusion designs, and because the cost of their efforts have required and will continue to require hundreds or even billions of investors dollars and government financial support, claims made about progress need to be looked at closely. No fusion developer wants investors to be put off by unanswered questions about the challenges they face to achieve success. So here are ten questions for fusion developers.

  • How close is [your firm] to demonstrating core temperatures and pressure conditions for the fusion energy produced to exceed the heating energy injected into the reactions. When will you be able to build a working prototype that will sustain a fusion process?
  • The firm has committed to an ambitious set of milestones with plans to break ground and to have an operating facility by a specific date. Are these plans realistic given the first of a kind technology that you committed to for [your] design?
  • Why did [your firm] choose the specific technology that is the basis for your firm’s design? What technological and economic benefits accrue from this unique design approach?
  • Has [your firm] confirmed, or do you have a target date for confirming, the required performance requirements of all of the components that have to work exactly as designed to make the firm’s design a success?
  • What are the key economic measures [your firm] will evaluate to prove to investors the design and prototype will scale to a viable commercial solution?
  • For many of the developers listed in the FIA report, the planned electrical output is less than 300 MW which is the upper threshold of small modular fission reactors.
    At $4,500/Kw such an SMR (300 MW) would cost just over $1 billion. Can the firm produce fusion plants (in volume) that could be competitive with that cost figure? Can the firm make the case that a commercial version of the design can be operated in a reliable manner so that the utility customer can make a profit?
  • What regulatory challenges does your firm expect to face in the UK and in the US?
  • What is the firm doing to develop a global supply chain and how will suppliers qualify to use fusion specific standards like fission’s NQA-1 for production of components for the machine? Right now almost all the major components of the design are custom built. Is there a plan to move in a cost effective manner from bench scale prototypes to commercial production of multiple units?
  • What is the current state of quality and safety standards for fusion machines, as compared to more stringent prescriptive regulatory requirements? Help or hinderance?
  • What is the firm doing to develop a workforce to build and later operate your firm’s specific design of a fusion plant?
  • Does the firm have expressions of interest from utilities for a fusion plant? What are utilities telling you about their interests – e.g., risks, financing, licensing, operations? For instance, Canada’s Bruce Power has an MOU with General Fusion to explore a possible joint development effort. Also, in Canada First Light Fusion has an agreement with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory to design a tritium extraction systems. Multiple firms have agreements with the UK Atomic Energy Authority. There are similar relationships which exist or which are expected between other fusion developers and utilities and government R&D centers.
  • What is the service life in years of your firm’s fusion machine, e.g., 40, 60, 80 years?
  • At the end of life for your firm’s fusion machine’s service life how will it be decommissioned by the utility? How will some components that have been bombarded by neutrons over the service life the machine, and have become radioactive, be safely disposed of?

There are lots of other questions for fusion developers, but these ten seem like a good place to start.

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VP Harris in Talks with Philippines, Thailand on Nuclear Energy

  • VP Harris Opens Talks in Philippines, Thailand on Nuclear Energy
  • Danish Company to Begin Testing Thorium Prototype
  • Finland to Buy Fuel from Westinghouse for its Russian Built VVER Reactors
  • Rolls-Royce in Talks to Supply Nuclear Reactor to UK Chemicals Giant INEOS
  • UK BEIS Commits £120 million to Nuclear Fusion
  • France Names New CEO For Troubled EDF

VP Harris Opens Talks in Philippines and Thailand on Nuclear Energy

US Vice President Kamala Harris opened talks this month with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte Carpio in Manila to promote security and economic ties between the two nations. During her visit Harris offered a “clean energy partnership” to help build small modular reactors (SMRs) which are less than 300 MWe. She also had similar meetings in Thailand (see report below). Fact Sheet

smr cartoon
In order to enable US firms to export nuclear technologies to the Philippines, that nation must have an agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act. The Vice President announced that the United States and the Philippines are initiating negotiations on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement (“123 agreement”) to support expanded cooperation on zero-emission energy and nonproliferation priorities.

Once in force, this agreement will provide the legal basis for U.S. exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines. A spokesperson for Harris said the United States is committed to working with the Philippines to increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs. Such a deployment would support both energy security and climate goals, as well as support workers and businesses in both countries.

SMRs for Thailand?

The US will help Thailand develop nuclear power US Vice President Kamala Harris announced on a visit to Bangkok this month.

The White House said the assistance was part of its Net Zero World Initiative, a project launched at last year’s Glasgow climate summit in which the US partners with the private sector and philanthropists to promote clean energy.

Thailand does not have nuclear power. Public sentiment is reportedly not favorable due to the media frenzy resulting from the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The White House said it would offer technical assistance to the country to deploy SMRs.

“We really look forward to working with Thailand to take advantage of the benefits of small modular reactors and reliable clean energy sources,” said a senior US official traveling with Harris.

A White House statement said that US experts would work with Thailand on deploying the reactors, which will have the “highest standards of safety, security and nonproliferation” and boast a smaller land footprint than alternatives.

The White House did not give a timeline for the program. Like the Philippines, Thailand does not have a 123 Agreement with the US.  The two countries will need to work together to sign off on one.

Harris, who is visiting the US ally for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, reportedly discussed the nuclear power initiative in a meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

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Danish Company to Begin Testing Thorium Prototype

copen atomic(NucNet) Danish nuclear technology company Copenhagen Atomics will begin testing a prototype of its thorium molten salt reactor which burns spent nuclear fuel and turns it into energy.

The company said the technology brings “a major paradigm shift” for nuclear energy. The prototype will be tested this winter in Copenhagen.

The reactor is fueled by thorium, which is much more abundant than uranium. The amount of thorium needed to cover the energy consumption of a person’s lifetime is comparable to the size of a golf ball.

“This technology is sustainable also due to the fact that it can use waste from traditional nuclear power plants,” the company said.

“At the same time, the amount of final waste will only be a fraction of that of conventional reactors and its storage time will be reduced from 100,000 years to 300 years.”

Copenhagen Atomics said its reactors will be built on an assembly line with an expected production output of one unit per day. Thanks to the economies of scale and low cost of thorium, the energy produced will be radically cheaper than any previous nuclear technologies, the company claims.

It said the 100 MWth reactor can provide energy at an anticipated price of $20/MWh. The developers of small modular reactors, using conventional light water design principles, are targeting a price in the region of $50/MWh – comparable to offshore wind – although some analysts believe this is optimistic.

The plant will have an output temperature of 560C which makes it ideal for industrial plants requiring process heat.

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Finland to Buy Fuel from Westinghouse for its Russian Built VVER Reactors

  • Westinghouse and Fortum Sign Long-Term Partnership for VVER-440 Nuclear Fuel

Westinghouse Electric Company and Fortum recently signed a long-term partnership to develop, license and deliver VVER-440 fuel to the Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland to guarantee a dependable Western alternative to Russian-supplied fuel.

The Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant has two VVER pressurized water reactors (PWR) that cover about 13% of Finland’s electricity production. The amount of electricity generated at the Loviisa power plant is nearly equivalent to the total combined electricity consumption of the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa.

“The new and parallel fuel supplier will diversify our fuel strategy, improve security of supply and ensure reliable electricity production at the Loviisa power plant also in the future,” says Sasu Valkamo, Vice President, Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant.

“Westinghouse offers the only alternative fuel for this type of reactors that is both designed and manufactured outside of Russia, so this partnership will provide increased energy security for Finland and fuel diversification for Fortum,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel.

“We are proud to support Fortum’s operating fleet with fuel reload quantities, building on our successful collaboration delivering VVER-440 fuel for Loviisa from 2001 to 2007.”

NucNett reported that Fortum said it has applied for extending the operating lifetimes of both Loviisa units until 2050, which means that a fuel supply tendering process will be organized for the new operating license period.

Westinghouse manufactures VVER-1000 fuel at its facility in Västerås, Sweden, but in recent years has been looking to restart its production capabilities for the smaller VVER-440 units. It also supplies fuel for VVER nuclear plants in Ukraine.

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Rolls-Royce in Talks to Supply Nuclear Reactor to UK Chemicals Giant INEOS

  • Rolls-Royce is in talks to build a 470 MWe nuclear reactor to power a chemicals plant in Scotland.

rolls royce logo INEOS is said to be ready to seal an agreement with Rolls-Royce to power the chemical refinery, in a move which could provide a blueprint for the future of heavy industry and engineering in the UK.

Rolls is at the head of a consortium which has plans to build 16 470MWe across the UK with each reactor estimated to cost around £1.8 billion

INEOS runs the Grangemouth chemical plant in conjunction with China’s state-run Petro-China. The firm wants Grangemouth to be carbon neutral by 2045. The Grangemouth site is Scotland’s only crude oil refinery. It has the capacity to produce around 7 million tonnes of fuels and 1.4 million tonnes of petrochemicals per year.

Last month, Rolls said it had identified the first locations for its reactors, with other sites Wales, Sellafield in Cumbria and Oldbury, near Bristol, pinpointed.

A spokesman for Rolls-Royce told The Telegraph: “Rolls-Royce SMR is talking to a number of industrial customers who see huge potential in using our UK developed technology to provide affordable, long-term, low carbon electricity, generated from a sustainable source.”

“In addition to generating low-carbon electricity for the grid, its small footprint and factory-built approach means the Rolls-Royce SMR can be deployed to power, energy intensive industrial processes, including the production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels.”

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UK BEIS Commits £120 million to Nuclear Fusion

types of fusion imageThe Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has committed £120 million to spearhead nuclear fusion innovation and boost energy security prospects for the future.

Nuclear fusion forms part of the government’s long-term plans to harness new technologies to build what it described as a “strong, home-grown energy sector” that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices.

The funding will accelerate the rollout of nuclear power with the British Energy Security Strategy having set a new target of up to 24GW by 2050.

The money is divided into two pots.

£42.1 million has been allocated to the Fusion Industry Program. This program creates a challenge fund, designed to engage and support UK businesses in important technical challenges of fusion. This would help build capabilities and spur commercial innovation.

£84 million has been allocated for Joint European Torus (JET) Operations. This will support JET, the “world’s largest and most powerful fusion experimentation”, BEIS said, in a bid to continue operations which will provide new insights and support for other UK fusion programs such as Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP)

This funding adds to the previously announced £220 million which was to be used for the first phase of STEP in October. In doing so, this will see the UK Atomic Energy Authority produce a concept design by 2024. This is built on an initial £200 million investment to support the first five years of development in 2019.

STEP is a UKAEA program that will demonstrate the ability to generate net electricity from fusion. It will also determine how the plant will be maintained through its operational life and prove the potential for the plant to produce its own fuel.

The first phase of the program is to produce a concept design by 2024. It will be a spherical tokamak, connected to the National Grid and producing net energy, although it is not expected to be a commercially operating plant at this stage.

The Government has pledged the investment as part of a £484M package to support the UK R&D sector while agreement is sought with the EU on participation in European research programs.

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said:

“Today’s announcement will support and secure the UK’s status as a scientific, international and commercial leader in fusion science. It gives welcome assurance that JET can complete its mission with a series of internationally important experiments throughout 2023. It also allows UKAEA to expand the Fusion Industry Program, working with companies to deliver a thriving UK fusion ecosystem.”

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France Names New CEO For Troubled EDF

edfThe French government officially appointed Luc Remont as chief CEO for EDF, the state-controlled national electricity utility that must get nuclear reactors back online before winter closes in. It is not certain that all of the reactors will be back online this month or next.

Remont, a top civil servant with private banking experience, replaces Jean-Bernard Levy, whose departure set when the government announced in July that it would take full ownership of the debt-laden firm to ensure the country’s energy security.

EDF operates the 56 nuclear reactors that generate around 70% of France’s electricity needs. However, an unacceptably high number of them have been offline for months due to issues with their emergency cooling systems.

Officials worry that without sufficient generating capacity as temperatures drop, EDF will have to buy increasing quantities of electricity on the European power market, where prices have spiked as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues into 2023.

French grid operator RTE warned of a “high risk” of network strain due to the power plant outages, which could see businesses and households forced to curb usage to avoid outright power cuts.

President Emmanuel Macron has also called for the construction of at least six next-generation nuclear power plants to make France less reliant on energy imports. The new plants could support export of electicity to other countries that want to reduce their reliance on coal and natural gas. However, EDF is saddled with legacy debt of 60 billion euros ($62.2 billion). A major financial bailout will be needed to build the new reactors.

Remont, a graduate of France’s elite Polytechnique engineering school, has worked in government ministries, the industrial giant Schneider Electric, and as a mergers and acquisitions advisor at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Is he up to the challenges facing EDF?

“In this context of energy crisis, EDF itself is in a serious crisis, both technical and industrial, that is accentuating the strains on energy supply,” Remont told a parliamentary committee in October.

“This could be the mission of a lifetime,” he said.

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Dan’s Idaho Nuclear Chili Recipe

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, and now “world famous” 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.

colored-hot-peppers-300x199These 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 all 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 broth 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.

Remember, good chili requires good beer. Do not cook with “light” beer. It’s a very bad idea! Your dinner guests will not forgive you. 😦

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. Other choices for drinking include local western favorites such as Moose Drool or Black Butte Porter, and regional amber ales like Alaskan Amber or Fat Tire.

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

History and Culture Behind 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 the UP main line south to Pocatello with Idaho Falls, and, eventually, north to Butte, MT.

inl.map

There is no town by the name of “Scoville,” but legend has it that way back in the 1950s & 60s, when the Idaho National Laboratory 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.

spent-fuel-train-idaho

Another thing about the name “Scoville” is that when the early days of the ‘Cold War’ with Russia was in high gear anything involving the transport of nuclear materials, like spent fuel from U.S. Navy ships and submarines, got an operational security cover name.

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.

arco-desert

On a clear winter morning, before the sun rises, as the bus heads toward the site in its 45 minute trip west on US 20, and reaches the top of the rise to Signal Hill, a rider can see the lights of facilities of the Idaho lab strung out across the desert like a sting of pearls, or, like cities on the earth as seen from the International Space Station.

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. Electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which initially produced about 100 kW.

First-City-Atomic-Power

The Idaho National Laboratory is located about 45 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID 43.3N;112.1W more or less.  Note to readers:  I worked at the Idaho National Laboratory for 20 years on the Arco desert, aka “the site,” and in town. I developed this recipe there and am pleased to share it with readers.

Why is ‘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 on the stove top the next day.  Do not microwave it.  That action 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. Add shredded sharp cheddar cheese over it,  and have something cold and sweet for dessert. Enjoy.

Ingredients  for spices kick it up a notch or tone it down to taste )

1 lb chopped or ground beef (15-20% fat)
large yellow onion
1 sweet red, orange or yellow pepper
1 sweet green pepper
10-12 medium size mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
1 can pinto beans (plain, no “chili sauce”), drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
1 can small, white ‘shoepeg” corn, drained
1 12 oz can beer
1 cup hot beef broth, instant is ok
1 tablespoon cooking sherry, brandy; or, bourbon
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 teaspoon cilantro

Directions

1. Chop the vegetables into small pieces and brown them at medium heat in canola cooking oil. Add 1 tablespoon of cooking sherry, brandy, etc., 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. Don’t let them burn. 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 on low heat 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 in winter, put it out here to cool off.
5. Reheat the next day. Garnish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Serve with cornbread and beer.
6. Feeds 2-4 adults.

inl_bus

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

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DOE Rejects Funding for Holtec to Restart Palisades

  • DOE Rejects Funding for Holtec to Restart Palisades
  • UK Govt Gives Green Light to Build Sizewell C Twin 1600 MW Reactors
  • Nuclear Hydrogen ‘Can Help Build Economy of the Future’
  • Westinghouse to Study UK Production of TRISO Nuclear Fuel

DOE Rejects Funding for Holtec to Restart Palisades

A first of a kind effort to reopen a nuclear power plant that had been closed by its utility owner/operator, and slated for decommissioning, will not go forward. The reason is that an application by Holtec to the Department of Energy (DOE) to fund a reversal of the closure of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan was not approved by the agency.  The plant is an 805 MW PWR type reactor built by Combustion Engineering for a cost of $630M and commissioned in 1973.

Palisades in 1973

The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in 1973. Image: US DOE

The plan was supported by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who  promised state funding if DOE came through on its end. The decision, which is most likely based on the numerous problems the plant faced on a path to being reopened, is nevertheless a blow to President Biden’s plans to address climate change.

The Detroit News reported that anti-nuclear groups vigorously opposed the plan to restart the reactor. The newspaper published a claim by one group that “a melt down was averted” by DOE’s decision not to fund the restart of the Palisades reactors.

Holtec apparently took the DOE decision in stride. Patrick O’Brien, a spokesperson for Holtec, said in a statement to Reuters, “We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, restarting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry.”

While DOE did not comment on the decision, ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan research group, told the Reuters wire service that Palisades’ closure was “likely to be permanent.”

“Palisades was out of nuclear fuel, faced a control rod drive seal issue that needed to be fixed and likely needed a new company to operate it, as well as a buyer for the power it generates.”

Another issue is that Holtec isn’t a nuclear utility and needed to find one to operate the plant once it was on its way to a restart.

Even if DOE had come through with the money, relicensing the plant presented a major challenge to Holtec and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The agency public affairs office said in an email statement to this blog that the agency has never dealt with a plant that involves re-licensing a closed nuclear reactor. However, in 2016 the agency took a look at the possibility of restarting a closed reactor and solicited input from the industry to address the issue.

Background on the Plan to Restart the Plant

In May 2022 Holtec acquired the 800 MW nuclear power plant, built in 1973 and located on the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, to decommission it. The firm has made a business out of decommissioning nuclear power plants paid for by the assurances of each plants decommissioning fund.

The plant was closed due to its inability to compete in a merchant market with low priced natural gas. The plan to reopen the reactor was to ask DOE to fund the needed steps to restore the facility to a point where it could be relicensed from the initial phase of the Energy Department’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) program.

The CNC program has the objective to keep open nuclear plants in highly competitive electricity markets. In the past decade numerous reactors have closed due to their inability to meet the pricing of electricity from gas plants and subsidized renewable energy sources.

So far only one other utility has applied for funds under the CNC program. In California PG&E has asked for funding to keep the two nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon open until 2030. That application is still pending although a decision is expected from DOE before the end of the year. Even after getting DOE’s money, PG&E must still address numerous deferred maintenance issues and convince the NRC to address plant licensing issues in the utility’s favor.

Separately, California’s state legislature, fearing the looming threat of a major political backlash over blackouts, last September passed SB486 which provides a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open through the end of the decade.

Holtec has Other Cards to Play

Elsewhere, Holtec is decommissioning several other shuttered nuclear reactors. However, at the Oyster Creek site in New Jersey, Holtec has aired preliminary plans to build at first of a kind 160 MW PWR type small modular reactor.

Holtec owns the site which was a 619-MW GE BWR unit that began commercial operation in 1969 and was shut down in September 2018. The plant was hounded into early retirement 10 years earlier than as provided for in its NRC license by then NJ Governor Chris Christie. Holtec is also decommissioning the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts.

The advantage of locating the SMR at the Oyster Creek site is that is has a switchyard and ready made connection to the grid. Also, there are roads and local utilities already in place.

In December Holtec was awarded $116 million from the US Department of energy to complete research and development work on its SMR-160 SMR design.

Last March DOE approved Part I of Holtec International’s loan application for building small modular reactors (SMRs) and invited the company to apply for a federal loan to help build four SMR-160s and to expand the company’s manufacturing capacity to build the first wave of small modular nuclear reactors in large numbers.

The SMR-160 is a light-water based pressurized SMR, which generates 160 MWe (525 MWth). The cooling system relies on gravity as to operate the reactor and it has a completely passive safety systems.

Earlier this year, the SMR-160 completed Phase 1 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) “Pre-Licensing Review of a Vendor’s Reactor Design.” Holtec is also submitting topical reports as part of the pre-licensing process at the NRC.

Update

On 11/21/22 the Department of Energy announced that PGE, the owner and operator of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has received the first round of funding, $1.1 billion, from the Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) Program. Funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the $6 billion CNC program supports the continued operations of nuclear energy facilities. The funds will be used to keep the plant open through 2030.

See prior coverage on this blog  Diablo Canyon is Saved For Now

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UK Gives Green Light to Build Sizewell C’s Twin 1600 MW Reactors

  • UK Confirms £700 Million State Backing As Nuclear Project Gets Green Light

greenlight(NucNet) The UK has given the green light for new nuclear at Sizewell C in Suffolk, southeast England, with chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirming £700m (€799m, $824m) in support for what would be “the first state-backed nuclear power station for 30 years.”

Boris Johnson gave the project the green light in one of his last acts as prime minister but Hunt’s plans to cut spending had created uncertainty around the planned power plant’s future.

Hunt said contracts would be signed in “the coming weeks” with partners in the project including French state energy firm EDF, which is building Sizewell’s sister station at Hinkley Point C.

Sizewell C will have two France-supplied EPRs producing 1600 MW each of electricity and is expected to cost about £20 billion.

Doubts had been raised two weeks ago after reports emerged that the project could face the axe in the new UK government’s search for savings, forcing the Prime Minister’s office to deny that it was considering such a measure.

Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who took office last month, is the UK, told the BBC about the decision to fund the giant nuclear power plant, “There is only one way to stop ourselves being at the mercy of international gas prices: energy independence combined with energy efficiency.”

Hunt said “Britain is a global leader in renewable energy. We need to go further, with a major acceleration of home-grown technologies like offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, and, above all, nuclear.”

“This [project] will deliver new jobs, industries, and export opportunities and secure the clean, affordable energy we need to power our future economy and reach net zero by 2050. So I can today announce that the government will proceed with the new nuclear plant at Sizewell C.”

“Subject to final government approvals, the contracts for the initial investment will be signed with relevant parties, including EDF, in the coming weeks, it will create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and provide reliable, low-carbon, power to the equivalent of six million homes for over 50 years.”

“Our £700 million investment is the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years and represents the biggest step in our journey to energy independence.”

The cash was initially announced by Boris Johnson, who urged the UK to “go large” on nuclear in his final major policy speech as prime minister. Johnson said it would be “madness” not to build Sizewell C.

Julia Pyke, Sizewell C financial director at EDF, told a UK parliament hearing on nuclear energy that the company is planning to take a final investment decision on the construction of Sizewell within 12 to 18 months.

‘Huge Moment’ For Energy Security

The government has already given planning consent for the project and in January announced £100 million of funding to support Sizewell C’s development, with the move aimed to attract further financing from private investors.

Sizewell C is expected to be funded, at least in part, under a new regulated asset base (RAB) model which will give nuclear projects the financial support they need and attract private investment.

EDF worked with China’s CGN on the first phase of the project. The Chinese state owned enterprise was expected to take a 20% equity stake in the project. However, PM Boris Johnson unceremoniously booted CGN off the project citing “security issues.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK-based Nuclear Industry Association, called the government’s decision to give a green light to Sizewell C “a huge moment for Sizewell C, for UK energy security and for the future of nuclear in Britain.”

He said Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s most important green infrastructure projects ever, and critical to the government’s commitment to strengthen energy independence, cut gas use and bring down bills.

“The UK now needs to urgently get on with building new nuclear plants alongside renewables to meet the targets set out in the Energy Security Strategy, and we look forward to Sizewell C contracts being signed in the next few weeks.

“This announcement also paves the way for the development of a pipeline of new nuclear projects, both large and small modular reactors, to deliver clean, reliable power for the British people.”

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Nuclear Hydrogen ‘Can Help Build Economy of the Future’

  • DOE official tells Cop27 challenges remain with storage and transportation

(NucNet) Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for nuclear at the US Department of Energy, told a panel discussion at the United Nations Cop27 climate conference in Egypt future nuclear reactors can help produce hydrogen to insure the stability of electric grids and decarbonizes industries such as transport and agriculture.

Huff told a #Atoms4Climate event organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency that nuclear power can play a role in the production of clean hydrogen because of its potential to generate large amounts of heat in addition to electricity.

markets for hydrogen

Most electricity generating stations primarily produce heat, which is converted to steam to power electric turbines. A nuclear reactor’s output is typically measured in MW electric (MWe), but reactors also produce large amounts of heat which is processed into steam, and that heat output is measured in MW thermal (MWt).

“The conversation from thermal to electric power is very inefficient”, she said. “So, let’s use nuclear for what it is good at.”

According to Huff, thermochemical water splitting, a method which uses a high heat source to generate hydrogen, is more efficient than the alternative method of using low-temperature electrolysis systems. Nuclear power can therefore harness some of the highest efficiency hydrogen production methods today.

Advanced Reactors And Hydrogen Hubs

Some advanced nuclear reactors under development can contribute to hydrogen generation. Huff gave the example of X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) design which can produce heat of up to 800 degrees C. The reactor is being developed and is expected to be built at a site in Richland, WA, under a cost shared funding effort through DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

The DOE has an $8 billion (€7.8bn) initiative to demonstrate six to 10 regional hydrogen hubs to couple consumers and producers of hydrogen, including nuclear producers of hydrogen, in a single location depending on the needs of the local industrial or agricultural sectors.

“If these hydrogen goals are achieved and we are successful with the hydrogen hubs, I really see a future in which a hydrogen economy underpins the stability of our electric grid in the US, decarbonizes our transportation, agricultural, and transportation systems, and deeply leverages the highest-temperature advanced reactors and existing light-water reactors,” Huff said.

She said the DOE is supporting four small nuclear power and hydrogen demonstration projects at four nuclear stations which are supposed to pave the way for the development of larger “hydrogen hubs”.

According to DOE the four projects include:

Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station (Oswego, NY): DOE is supporting the construction and installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Nine Mile Point NPP. The project will be the first nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production facility in the US and will use the hydrogen to help cool the plant. Plant owner Constellation plans to begin producing hydrogen before the end of the year.

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station (Oak Harbor, OH): Energy Harbor is working to demonstrate a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station. The goal is to prove the technical feasibility and economic benefits of clean hydrogen production, which could facilitate future opportunities for large-scale commercialization. The single unit reactor is expected to produce clean hydrogen by 2023. Potential uses could be sold for local manufacturing and transportation services, including fuel for a local bus fleet.

Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant (Red Wing, MN): Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy are working on a first-of-a-kind project to demonstrate high-temperature electrolysis at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant. The data collected from this demonstration will be used to scale up this process. Hydrogen production is expected to begin in early 2024.

Palo Verde Generating Station (Tonopah, AZ): DOE is negotiating an award with Arizona Public Service (APS) and PNW Hydrogen to demonstrate another low-temperature electrolysis system at the Palo Verde Generating Station. The hydrogen will be used to produce electricity during times of high demand or to make chemicals and other fuels.  The project could start producing hydrogen in 2024, pending the completion of award negotiations.

Additional funding, through Inflation Reduction Act, also includes support for clean hydrogen production via tax credits that will award up to $3/kg for low carbon hydrogen. All of this work supports DOE’s Hydrogen Shot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in one decade.

Huff said, “Reaching this cost reduction goal would open new markets for hydrogen, in addition to creating more clean energy jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making America a more competitive actor in the global clean energy market.”

She said nuclear is suited to heat production and called this a “special niche” for which other clean energy systems might not be the best fit. Hydrogen and nuclear power can be used to balance the variability of renewable energy sources.

She warned that challenges remain related to storage and transportation mainly due to the embrittlement of steel, or extreme corrosion caused by the absorption of hydrogen atoms or molecules by metals. Also, because hydrogen gas is a very small molecule, it can easily leak from containment systems, a problem NASA has dealt with for decades using liquid hydrogen as a fuel for its rockets.

A Role For Desalination?

Another concern is the availability of large amounts of water to be used in the water splitting process to produce hydrogen – an issue where ocean water desalination using nuclear power could be a solution.

In a recent report on the role of nuclear power in the hydrogen economy, the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency said the cost of hydrogen from new nuclear reactors is similar to the cost of hydrogen from variable renewables – solar and wind – in most places around the world.

According to Michel Berthelemy, a nuclear energy analyst at the NEA, hydrogen can be produced at a competitive cost, also levering existing nuclear power and its long-term operation.

He said, that the cost of hydrogen could be double or triple in cases where it will need to be transported over large distances.

Combining momentum in the development of advanced reactors with momentum for industrial hydrogen deployment will be essential for progress this decade and into the next, Berthelemy told the panel.

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Westinghouse to Study UK Production of TRISO Nuclear Fuel

(WNN) x-energy triso fuelWestinghouse has been awarded a grant by the UK government to complete a Pre-Front End Engineering Design study, in collaboration with Urenco, for the production of TRISO fuels at its Springfields facility in Preston, Lancashire.

The grant, through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will consider a secure and reliable supply of advanced TRISO – tristructural isotropic – fuels to support a range of potential high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technologies under development. Westinghouse will also receive support on this study from TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy of the USA. The value of the grant was not disclosed.

“This award is an important step in creating commercial-scale advanced fuel production in the UK at our Springfields facility for the reactors of tomorrow,” said Westinghouse President and CEO Patrick Fragman.

Earlier this month, TRISO-X broke ground for North America’s first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility – or TF3 – is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025. It will initially produce 8 tonnes of fuel per year, supporting about 16 advanced reactors, and is envisaged to increase to 16 tonnes per year by the early 2030s.

Last September the UK government announced GBP3.3 million (USD3.8 million) in funding to support the development of advanced nuclear technology. The funding through the Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development and Demonstration program – part of the GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund – will support the development of innovative nuclear technology in the UK, such as HTGRs. It aims to demonstrate HTGR technology by the early 2030s.

Currently, the UK does not have an effort underway to develop an HTGR reactors which suggests that it could import such a design from the US, Canadian, or other developer of this type of reactors.

Under that funding, Springfields Fuels Ltd is receiving GBP243,311 for a project, in collaboration with Urenco, to determine the most effective route for the secure and reliable supply of coated particle fuel (CPF) to support the range of potential HTGR technologies which may come forward in the UK.

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Update on Saudi Arabia’s Quest for Nuclear Reactors

UPDATED 12/12/22, 01/27/23

According to news media reports Saudi Arabia’s MBS did not ink a nuclear reactor deal with China’s PM XI during his visit this week though the two leaders talk about “energy security” albeit mostly due to China being Saudi Arabia’s best customer for oil. There was not any public confirmation that the discussions progressed to an agreement on reactors. That said of course we don’t know what they said in private, but XI wants the deal badly enough that if he did get one it would have leaked to the press.

Now that MBS has gone to South Korea, and not inked a deal, and since he has just finished hosting China, and not inked a deal, it follows that he is doing what any good commercial negotiator working on a multi billion dollar deal would do. It is to NOT accept the first offer from bidders.

It appears that MBS is playing the two countries to see which one will give him the best overall package in terms of energy, cost, and reliability.

So now China and South Korea will have to go back and sharpen their pencils so to speak. Note that South Korea has already played the “offsets” card delivering military hardware to Poland as part of its offer to build four 1400 MW PWRs there.

Note that while Poland has accepted the South Korean offer in principle, actual completion of a term sheet with price, performance, etc., is still at least a year away and depends on Poland coming up with the money for its end. The same can be said for Westinghouse which has a separate unfunded MOU with the Polish government.

Also, it seems plausible that South Korea will make the case to Saudi officials that its reactor design is 100% based on domestic work and does not contain any engineering design work from the Westinghouse System 80.

That claim would then do double duty. If South Korea claims there is no Westinghouse content in its reactor, then there is no US technology that is being “transferred” to a country – Saudi Arabia – that does not have a 123 Agreement with the US. You could call it a ‘double get off the hook’ strategy and it could work. Such a claim would also lay to rest a concern the Saudi might have about South Korea not being able to complete a project due to US “interference” with the project.

Separately, EDF is intensely interested in finding a way to get in the running in Saudi Arabia, but its dismal track record in Finland and France with schedule delays and cost overruns would very likely make it a nonstarter from the Saudi perspective.

Background on Saudi Nuclear Tender

Earlier this year Saudi Arabia quietly released a tender for two full size light water design nuclear reactors.  The inquiry was sent to South Korea, France, China and Russia. The process of acquiring two reactors is a down sized effort from an ambitious goal set in 2014 to build 16 1000 MWe units.

Also, Saudi Arabia established a national nuclear energy company to develop and operate nuclear facilities. Riyadh said the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company (SNEHC) will participate in nuclear projects locally and internationally.

saudi_arabia_pol_2003According to industry sources, the Saudi government sent the solicitation to South Korea because the latter has successfully built the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the United Arab Emirates.

South Korea won the UAE contract in 2009 and has built four APR1400 reactors at a cost of US$18.6 billion. Unit 1 of the country’s first nuclear power plant was connected to the grid in August 2020, followed by unit 2 in September 2021, and unit 3 in October 2022.

Another reason for the Saudis to go with South Korea is that the experienced skilled trades that are building the four units in the UAE will be available as the UAE units will be completed in the next two to three years. This experience is invaluable and could shave costs of construction since the contractors and their workers would have already built these types of units.

MBS Visits Seoul

All this background came to a head this week as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the kingdom’s prime minister, aka MBS, visited South Korea this week. During the visit he signed MOUs for multiple civil infrastructure projects. For example,
Aramco will invest $7 billion in a petrochemical “steam cracker” in the east Asian country. The investment, which is named the Shaheen project, is Aramco’s largest-ever in South Korea. The project will be located at an existing site belonging to the South Korean energy company S-Oil.

However,  according to an English language news media report in the Korea Times, he did not sign off on a pending nuclear reactor deal for two full size commercial nuclear reactors.   The reason may be there are a couple of unresolved issues related to South Korea’s light water reactor design –  the APR1400.

APR1400 schematic

Westinghouse Litigation

While South Korea claims that it has full intellectual property rights to its reactor design, the APR1400 MW PWR, Westinghouse sued KHNP in US District Court that it still has rights to some of the engineering design information from the legacy System 80 reactor that was licensed by KHNP to build four of its PWRs for the United Arab Emirates. Since then KHNP claims its design has been updated to remove the engineering design elements previously licensed from Westinghouse.

  • Update 01/27/23

Energy Intel, a trade press newsletter based in Washington, DC, reports that US-based Westinghouse and South Korea’s top nuclear firms have launched settlement negotiations over their legal and commercial dispute as to whether Seoul’s reactor export drive impinges on both Westinghouse’s intellectual property rights and Washington’s nuclear export controls. But any compromise will be a heavy lift, particularly given the US government’s worries that any backing down by the US side might pave the way for Korea Electric Power Co. (Kepco) to supply Saudi Arabia with APR1400 reactors without US export controls. The thinking goes that this would undermine Washington’s efforts to convince Riyadh to sign a “gold standard” nonproliferation agreement committing Saudi Arabia not to pursue uranium enrichment or reprocessing.

IAEA Safeguards

IAEA_logoThe other issue, which is unrelated to the Westinghouse content, is that South Korea agreed with the US on compliance with IAEA nuclear safeguards which it is now obliged to conform to for any exports of the APR1400. In principle, countries doing business with South Korea would also have to sign off on the IAEA requirements for the order to go through.

The specific requirement is “ROK will adopt a common policy with the United States to require recipient countries have an IAEA safeguard agreement Additional Protocol in place as a condition of supply of nuclear power plants.”

However, Saudi Arabia has not signed off on the relevant IAEA  protocols for nonproliferation and has resisted calls for it to do so. This could put South Korea in a bind unless the US State Department issues a waiver for the South Korea deal with Saudi Arabia to go through.  It is unclear at this time, given the sour nature of relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, what the Biden administration will do, within the context of existing law and international agreements, assuming it is even paying attention to these developments.

At stake is the question of what Saud Arabia will do if it is denied its apparent first choice for South Korea. The limited options are Rosatom or one of the Chinese state owned enterprises in the nuclear reactor space.

Either option isn’t good for the US. Such a decision would position either to build 14 more reactors for Saudi Arabia assuming the winner of the deal for two reactors doesn’t eat the inevitable schedule delays and cost overrun for the next 14 units that will be associated with the project.

The nuclear deal, if won by either Russia or China, would give either nation a 60-80 year franchise for 16 nuclear reactors as well as the franchise to supply fuel to them in a country which will likely remain on top of the global oil market for the rest of this century.

Saudi Arabia Response to Iran’s Nuclear Program

With Iran moving ahead, absent an international nuclear deal to constrain its efforts, to add new uranium centrifuges and make more enriched uranium (20% U235), Saudi Arabia sees Tehran’s plans for a full blown nuclear weapons program as being on a fast track. In response, it has taken several preliminary steps towards its own nuclear deterrence efforts.

China has already committed to help Saudi Arabia build a hard rock uranium mill to turn ore from Saudi Arabia’s significant domestic uranium resources into yellowcake, which is the first step in uranium enrichment for the commercial nuclear fuel cycle. However, it is also the first step in uranium to levels that can be used to make nuclear weapons.

While Saudi Arabia may be on a path of deterrence relative to Iran’s nuclear program, it seems problematic that Saudi Arabia would get help from either Russia or China to pursue nuclear weapons. The last thing Russia and China want, as members of the exclusive nuclear weapons club, is another member. China has enough headaches as it is with North Korea.

On the other hand, there are credible doubts about the ability of either Russia or China to control the Saudi’s taking the path forward from HEU to a weapon or for extraction of PU-239 from spent fuel for the same purpose. Saudi Arabia can get all expertise it needs from Pakistan about uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons.

Overall, if the US government has any horse sense about these developments, it will do whatever it can, within existing law and international agreements, to keep Russia and China from getting the Saudi nuclear deal and insure South Korea wins the business with no extra baggage. A first step in the right direction would be to offer to mediate the current intellectual property issue raised by Westinghouse and avoid the protracted delays and costs of litigation.

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DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS

  • DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS
  • US Announces Nuclear Hydrogen Production for Ukraine Using NuScale SMR
  • US Export/Import Bank Offers Financing for Romania’s Cernavoda 3 & 4
  • Bulgaria To Speed Up Supply Of Non-Russian Nuclear Fuel
  • TerraPraxis Selects Terrestrial Energy for Coal to Nuclear Program
  • General Fusion Signs MOU with Canadian National Lab

DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS

bankrollThe Department of Energy (DOE), with a $700M bankroll to help the US advanced reactor industry by being the first buyer of high assay low enriched uranium fuel (HALEU), spent some of its cash this week. DOE announced it inked a $150M deal with American Centrifuge Operating, LLC of Bethesda, Maryland, a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to ramp up production to be able to produce a ton of the fuel (900Kg) every year starting in 2024.

The contract is intended to demonstrate the nation’s ability to produce HALEU fuel. DOE’s action will undoubtedly be accompanied by a short sigh of relief from the CEOs of the nation’s developers of advanced reactors who have been saying for most of this year that looking to where they will get their first fuel loads of HALEU has been their number one ‘keep awake’ issue.

But there is still a long way to go. The Centrus centrifuges will only produce enriched uranium in a gas form, which is uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The nation’s sole uranium conversion plant in Illinois has to be restarted and there are three fuel fabrication plants being built by advanced reactor developers to meet their specific needs and to sell HALEU fuels in other forms to other customers in the US and for export.

First fuel loads are needed by DOE’s funded ARDP reactors later this decade so the race is on to get all the stars to align in time. The fuel fabrication plants have to be built, and licensed by the NRC, and be ready to produce fuel in the next three to four years.

DOE said in its press statement that the cost share contract “will serve as a key step in securing domestic HALEU for advanced reactors.”

HALEU is required by most U.S. advanced reactors to achieve smaller designs, longer operating cycles, and increased efficiencies over current technologies. HALEU is not currently available at commercial scale from domestic suppliers, a situation that could significantly impact the development and deployment of U.S. advanced reactors. Getting the fuel from Russia is not an option nor likely to be one for years to come.

Advancing domestic capability to produce HALEU will set the stage for larger, commercial-scale HALEU production in the U.S.

3.31_HALEU Overview_742x960
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said, “Reducing our reliance on adversarial nations for HALEU fuel and building up our domestic supply chain will allow the U.S. to grow our advanced reactor fleet and provide Americans with more clean, affordable power.”

“This demonstration shows DOE’s commitment to working with industry partners to kick start HALEU production at commercial scale to create more clean energy jobs and ensure the benefits of nuclear energy are accessible to all Americans.”

DOE projects that more than 40 metric tons of HALEU will be needed before the end of the decade, with additional amounts required each year, to deploy a new fleet of advanced reactors.

ARDP Reactors are Key Drivers of Need for HALEU

two potsEstablishing a sustainable commercial HALEU production program is essential to meeting DOE’s long-term objectives. The uranium enrichment cascade demonstration program is intended to address near-term HALEU needs and will be used to support fuel qualification testing and DOE-supported advanced reactor demonstration projects. DOE has two of them on the stove top for this program.

Both advanced reactor designs are funded under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). In return for the billions in cost-shared federal funding, DOE has imposed ambitious deadlines on both firms to have their reactors up and running by the end of this decade. Having HALEU fuel available in time for the first fuel loads is on the critical path and DOE’s milestones cannot be met without it.

The first ARDP reactor is TerraPower’s 345 MW Natrium reactor, which is a sodium- cooled design which has a legacy that links it to the GE-Hitachi PRISM reactor and from there to the Argonne West Integral Fast Reactor. Using the cost-shared DOE money, TerraPower plans to build the first-of-a-kind (FOAK) plant in the remote Wyoming town of Kemmerer, WY.

The new reactors will replace an aging coal fired power plant owned and operated by PacificCorp. TerraPower is sufficiently confident of the success of the first reactor that it has developed a joint plan with PacificCorp to build five more Natrium reactors within the utility’s service area and all of them will replace coal fired power plants.

Add it up and that’s six 345 MW plants, or 2,070 MW of electrical generating power, and all of them will need a lot of HAELU to keep the lights on in three rocky mountain states. DOE’s funding and contract award come not a moment too soon.

The second ARDP project is X-Energy’s Gen-IV inspired 80 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). The firm plans to use its DOE cost-shared funding the build the first installation of what could be a four-pack in Richland, WA. Like TerraPower, it wouldn’t mind if DOE could please just spend its money as as fast as possible to insure that the HALEU fuel is available.

A challenge for DOE’s HALEU program is that these reactors use very different types of fuel. The Natrium reactor uses high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallic fuel. The X-Energy reactor used TRISO fuel.

Beyond the ARDP reactors, in the US there are a half dozen other developers of advanced reactors which will seek access to HALEU fuels. The short list of firms includes; Arc Clean Energy, General Atomics, Kairos Power, Oklo, and Ultra Safe Nuclear.

No Fueling Around, No Waiting

Neither ARDP reactor vendor is waiting for DOE to spend the rest of its newly appropriated funds ($550M) for HALEU. In October both firms announced independently that they are forging ahead to have their fuel they need fabricated via commercial contracts funded in part by some of their ARDP funding. Both new nuclear fuel facilities will require NRC licenses.

On 10/21/22 Global Nuclear Fuel–Americas (GNF-A), a GE-led joint venture, and TerraPower announced an agreement to build the Natrium Fuel Facility at the site of GNF-A’s existing plant site near Wilmington. The facility represents an investment of more than $200 million. The project will break ground in 2023.

On 10/13/22 TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy, broke ground and began construction activities on North America’s first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The project will represent an investment of approximately $300 million. TF3 is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025.

The nuclear fuel facilities being built by both firms expect that DOE’s funded production of HALEU by the new centrifuges at CENTRUS will result in the required enrichment levels of U235 to meet their needs in the gaseous form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). This material will go to a conversion plant to be converted from the gaseous state into the type of solid material forms needed to fabricate the uranium metal fuel for TerraPower or the TRISO “pebbles” needed by X-Energy. The fuel fabrication work will be done at each of the respective plants the two firms are committed to build.

CoverDyn’s uranium conversion plant in Illinois is expected to restart in 2023 but this is an “aggressive timeline” according to a statement the firm’s CEO made to World Nuclear News in April 2021. On a more hopeful note, ConverDyn stated in 2020 at a GAIN workshop at the Idaho National Laboratory that it could potentially reinstate a capacity of 15,000 tons of uranium per year should there be a market signal to do so. The plant has a current NRC license to operate which is good until 2060. It also has a license from the NRC to export enriched uranium in various forms.

The_Nuclear_Fuel_Cycle_(44021369082)_(cropped)

The two ARDP nuclear fuel plants, when completed, will have the capacity to meet not only the needs of TerraPower and X-Energy but also to supply finished nuclear fuel products to other developers of advanced nuclear reactors. Given the increasing isolation of Russia from global energy markets, these plants likely will position themselves for export sales. They’re not alone in this market.

Ultra Safe Nuclear Fuel Facilities

In August 2022 Ultra Safe Nuclear announced the opening of a new pilot manufacturing plant in Oak Ridge, TN, to produce TRISO fuel and the custom nuclear fuel needed for its reactor design  The plant’s fuel fabrication process is licensed from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a statement tied the the opening  in 2020 of a ceramics and materials plant in Salt Lake City, UT,  the firm said materials developed at the new facility will be used in Ultra Safe Nuclear’s Micro-Modular Reactors (MMR) and other nuclear reactors, including gas-cooled reactors, light water reactors, CANDU reactors, and molten salt cooled reactors.

First Year, First Fuel Loads

Uranium-enrichment.jpgMeanwhile, back at the CENTRUS ranch, the DOE $150M contract includes a $30 million cost share during the first year to start up and operate 16 advanced centrifuges in a cascade at an enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio.

American Centrifuge Operating will complete the final steps of centrifuge assembly and clear an operational readiness review to start up the demonstration cascade.

They will meet the demonstration requirements by enriching uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas to produce 20 kilograms of 19.75% enriched HALEU by the end of 2023.

They will then continue production in 2024 at an annual production rate of 900 kilograms of HALEU per year, subject to appropriations, with additional options to produce more material under the contract in future years. Annual Congressional appropriations will inform the duration of the contract based on the availability of funding. (BTW: 900 kilograms is just 16 pounds short of a ton of material.)

This latest award builds on DOE’s three-year cascade demonstration program with American Centrifuge Operating, to manufacture and demonstrate the centrifuge enrichment cascade. The cascade was assembled at the Department’s enrichment facility in Piketon, OH, which is currently the only U.S. plant licensed by the NRC to produce HALEU.

DOE is pursuing multiple pathways to produce HALEU through its HALEU Availability Program authorized by the Energy Act of 2020 to meet this pressing need. Following the HALEU demonstration, the centrifuge technology used at the facility will be available for commercial deployment. Learn more about HALEU and DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

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US Announces Nuclear Energy for Hydrogen Production in Ukraine Using NuScale SMR

At the COP27 climate conference this week, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry and Ukraine Minister of Energy Galushchenko announced a cooperation agreement to use small modular reactors to produce hydrogen and ammonia via reactor powered electrolysis.

nuclear and hydrogen
The project aims to carry out a first-of-a-kind pilot of commercial-scale production of clean fuels from SMRs using solid oxide electrolysis. The project seeks to support Ukraine’s energy security goals, enable decarbonization of hard-to-abate energy sectors through clean hydrogen generation, and improve long-term food security through clean ammonia-produced fertilizers. Further, it aims to demonstrate Ukraine’s innovative clean energy leadership through the use of advanced technologies.

Participating partners for the pilot include a multinational consortium from ;

  • Argonne National Laboratory,
  • Ukraine’s Energoatom, National Security and Defense Council, and State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, and
  • Private companies Clark Seed, Doosan Enerbility, FuelCell Energy, IHI Corporation, JGC Corporation, NuScale Power, Samsung C&T, and Starfire Energy.

Coal to SMR Initiatives

In a second announcement, Special Envoy Kerry launched a new initiative, Project Phoenix, to accelerate the transition in Europe of coal-fired plants to SMRs while retaining local jobs through workforce retraining. Project Phoenix will provide direct U.S. support for coal-to-SMR feasibility studies and related activities in support of energy security goals for countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

The United States is committed to supporting the use of innovative clean energy technologies to power global decarbonization efforts and providing options to achieve net zero transition in hard-to-abate energy sectors. This project is part of existing capacity-building cooperation launched under the U.S. Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of SMR Technology (FIRST) program.

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US ExIm Bank Offers Financing for Romania’s Cernavoda 3 & 4

1200px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Export-Import_Bank.svg(WNN) The Export-Import Bank (Exim), the USA’s official export credit agency, has issued two Letters of Interest for the financing of US-sourced pre-project technical services at the Cernavoda 3 and 4 nuclear power project in Romania.

Exim President and Chair Reta Jo Lewis, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and President of Romania Klaus Iohannis, Energy Minister Virgil Popescu, and Geoffrey Pyatt, Assistant Secretary at the State Department, announced two letters of interest.

According to Romanian utility Nuclearelectrica, Exim would be able to consider financing up to $50 million of the US export contract for pre-project engineering services as part of the engineering multiplier program and up to $3 billion of the US export contract for engineering and project management services for the completion of the partially-built Cernavoda units 3 and 4.

Three Part Strategy – Nuclearelectrica said the strategy for completing Cernavoda 3 and 4 is being implemented in three stages.

Stage 1 started at the end of 2021 will last up to 24 months, during which a set of engineering and safety documentation necessary for the project re-start and will be prepared/up-dated, required to substantiate a preliminary investment decision.

Stage 2 of the project consists of preparation of critical engineering for the definition of the project, structuring and contracting financing and agreeing upon an adequate contractual architecture for the implementation of the project, obtaining the construction license, reassessing the feasibility of the project based upon updated technical and economic indicators and making the final investment decision.

Stage 3 of the project consists of site mobilization, start of the construction works, commissioning and start of the commercial operation of unit 3 in 2030 and unit 4 in 2031.

In addition, Nuclearelectrica intends to deploy US-based NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology for a 462 MW nuclear power plant on the site of a former coal plant.

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Bulgaria To Speed Up Supply Of Non-Russian Nuclear Fuel

(NucNet) Bulgaria’s parliament passed a motion this week to speed up licensing procedures and potential supply of non-Russian nuclear fuel for the country’s Kozloduy nuclear power station, which has two VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors (PWRs) in commercial operation. Sofia is planning for tender ‘within weeks’ and is likely to include invitations to US-based Westinghouse and France’s Framatome.

vver1000 fuel assemblyBulgaria receives nuclear fuel from Russia’s state-owned Tvel under a 2019 contract which is set to expire in 2025.

According to the motion, the first alternative VVER fuel supplies should be made by April 2024 for Kozloduy-5. The new fuel vendor will be required to use technologies and licenses which are not related to Russia. The parliament’s decision obliges the government to complete the licensing process by the end of 2023.

Westinghouse already has VVER-1000 fuel supply deals in the Czech Republic and Ukraine, where operators have decided to work towards cutting their dependency on Russia.

Framatome performs maintenance and modification activities for all types of reactor designs around the world including VVER pressurized water reactor designs. Its latest contract for services at the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant was announced last April.

The two Russia-designed VVER-1000 PWR units at Kozloduy, inherited from the socialist era, provide about one third of the country’s electricity.

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TerraPraxis Selects Terrestrial Energy for Coal to Nuclear Program

coal plantTerrestrial Energy, an advanced nuclear technology development company, and TerraPraxis, an organization that innovates, designs, and accelerates scalable, equitable climate solutions, have signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to cooperate on ‘Repowering Coal.’

Under development by TerraPraxis, ‘Repowering Coal’ is a program to standardize the replacement of coal furnaces at existing coal-fired power plants with high-temperature heat supplied by Generation IV nuclear technology.

The Repowering Coal report, authored by TerraPraxis, was launched at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021. In partnership with Microsoft, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bryden Wood, Schneider Electric and others, Repowering Coal is a program aimed at integrating clean heat sources with existing infrastructure at coal-fired power plants.

TEI-ISMR-HowItWorks-Diagram

Conceptual image of Terrestrial Energy Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor Design and Applications

TerraPraxis has selected Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) as the first candidate heat source vendor for its Repowering Coal program due to its unique capabilities. These include its high-temperature heat supply required to replace coal-fired boilers

According to the agreement, Terrestrial Energy and TerraPraxis will work on a standardized systems interface between the IMSR and coal-fired power plant systems, which they will apply to candidate sites as part of the program to repower coal projects in North America and elsewhere.

The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) reported in a September 2022 study that over 300 coal-fired power plants in the United States alone are candidates for the Repowering Coal program. This represents over 260 Gigawatts of electric generation capacity, located at more than 300 sites. DOE estimated that “80% of retired and operating coal power plant sites that were evaluated have the basic characteristics needed to be considered amenable to host an advanced nuclear reactor.”

In September 2022, TerraPraxis and Microsoft entered into an agreement to deliver a digital solution that will catalyze significant decarbonization in areas where global industry has struggled to get results. TerraPraxis will combine its expertise in energy with Microsoft to build and deploy a set of tools to automate the design and regulatory approval needed to decarbonize coal facilities with nuclear power.

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General Fusion Signs MOU with Canadian National Lab

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and General Fusion announced that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to pursue a series of joint projects to accelerate the deployment of commercial fusion power in Canada. The MOU will act as a framework for both companies to partner to advance fusion energy research and commercialization.

Under the terms of the agreement, CNL and General Fusion will collaborate on projects in key areas, including feasibility studies, regulatory framework, power plant siting and deployment, infrastructure design, and testing and operations support. Overall, the aim is to develop fusion energy research capabilities within CNL, to support the goal of constructing a General Fusion commercial power plant in Canada before 2030.

nuclear fusion reaction
“General Fusion is a Canadian company based in Vancouver and we are excited to advance this framework to collaborate with CNL, a leader in clean energy technologies,” said Greg Twinney, CEO, General Fusion.

The MOU with General Fusion builds upon previous work that the two organizations conducted under CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI) last year. Leveraging CNL’s state-of-the-art Tritium Facility, which is capable of handling materials required to conduct full-scale tests of tritium extraction technology, CNL and General Fusion partnered on the development of technologies to extract tritium for use in future fusion power plants.

This is the second MOU General Fusion has inked with Canadian energy-related organizations. In February 2022 General Fusion signed an MOU to support development of fusion energy with Ontario’s Bruce Power and the Nuclear Innovation Institute.  The goal is to support deploying a fusion energy electrical generation plant at a site to be determined in a three county region in Ontario.

General Fusion is committed to build a Fusion Demonstration Plant at the Culham, UK, site by 2025 and to have commercial fusion power units operational in the early 2030s.

General Fusion’s MTF technology is fueled by two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, the latter of which can be produced as part of the fusion process within the company technology. General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion technology involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid lithium metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs.

The company is building a demonstration plant at the UK Atomic Energy Agency’s Culham Campus in England, which it says will validate the performance and economics of the technology prior to the construction of a pilot commercial power plant.

Sheffield Forgemasters Advances Fusion Energy Project for General Fusion

shef forgeSheffield Forgemasters will make a trial forging to advance the development of a pioneering green technology demonstration plant for fusion power.

The critical ring component, for Canada’s General Fusion, will confirm specifications for the next phase of the program, to create a thick-walled fusion vessel designed to withstand the extreme high-temperatures and compressive forces needed to create fusion energy.

The trial ring’s specifications match the 11 rings planned for the fusion demonstration machine. It will allow the engineering team to validate performance of the high-strength steel alloy, finalize the vessel design and confirm the manufacturing process for the fusion reactor.

The final trial ring will weigh 42 metric tons. Sheffield Forgemasters’ engineering team will complete non-destructive testing on the trial ring, which can include visual, ultrasonic, dye-penetrant and magnetic particle inspection, as well as eddy-current testing.

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on DOE Awards $150M HALEU Contract to CENTRUS

New Twists and Turns in Poland’s Push for Nuclear Reactors

corn mazeThe two enormous nuclear energy projects agreed to in principle in Poland over the past two weeks for up to ten full size nuclear reactors are being overshadowed this week by the national security implications of a lawsuit filed by Westinghouse (WEC) against South Korea’s bid team KHNP.

The situation has evolved since the legal action by WEC was filed in Federal District Court two weeks ago. The twists and turns that have emerged this week have begun to look like  a complex corn maze and may be as difficult to navigate if the two parties cannot resolve their differences.

The issue is a claim by Westinghouse that the KHNP’s APR1400 PWR contains engineering design information and technology which were previously licensed from WEC and cannot be used in the South Korean bid for Poland’s nuclear reactor fleet without paying licensing fees. The precedent is that KHNP/KEPCO did exactly that (licensing the WEC IP) to a reported tune of $20M for permission to use it to sell and build four APR400s to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a cool $20 billion.

The national security issue for the US is that WEC wants to block KHNP’s bid for the Polish reactors, for the Czech tender for Dukovany, and, most significantly, for its bid for two new reactors in response to a tender from Saudi Arabia.

If South Korea is blocked by the WEC lawsuit from selling its reactors to Saudi Arabia, it is possible that country might turn to Russia or more likely China for commercial nuclear power. Neither choice is in the national security interests of the US.

The Bloomberg wire service reported a stark challenge to KHNP by WEC.

“Korea Hydro’s bid faces hurdles after Westinghouse sued the company two weeks ago to prevent “unauthorized” sharing of nuclear technology with other countries including Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic”

“I think that we have to let the litigation play out,” said David Durham, president of energy systems at Westinghouse, who doesn’t see the Korean bid as a threat. “If we win as we expect, then I do not see them building these reactors either in Poland or in the Czech Republic or Saudi Arabia.”

Here’s the Problem

If WEC prevails in federal court on the intellectual property issue, and knocks KHNP out of the ring, the Saudi Government, which is believed to favor South Korea based on its success in building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates, has said  previously it will turn to China for its reactors. Th original tender for the Saudi reactors even specified the power rating of the South Korean reactor at 1400 MW.

The Saudi government can, when it wants to, be very direct about its interests. As far back as early 2019 Saudi Arabia made it clear it said it would seriously consider the Chinese Hualong one, which is a 1000 MW PWR, if it can’t get western or South Korean reactors.

China has built one Hualong One for Pakistan, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, and is nearing completion of a second unit. It is easy enough for the Saudi energy ministry to take a trip to Karachi to kick the tires of the Chinese nuclear reactor to see if they like it. China is building the two reactors as part of its global Belt & Road program, but there has always been the thought that it chose reactors for Pakistan due to that country’s close relations with Saudi Arabia.

Plainly, it is not in the interests of the US to have China involved in the energy security of Saudi Arabia for the next 60-80 years which is why WEC’s efforts to interfere via litigation with the South Korean bid to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are a big concern.

While WEC has a legal right to protect and be compensated for the use of its intellectual property, the outcome it seeks has some important consequences that go way beyond that objective.

As things stand now Westinghouse has no chance of winning the business in Saudi Arabia because of the lack of a 123 Agreement with the US and no prospects of there being one soon enough to matter. However, WEC may not have considered what happens to Saudi Arabia’s plans for nuclear power if WEC prevails in the US courts in its lawsuit against KHNP.

If the Saudis are denied their obvious first choice, based on South Korea’s experience in the UAE, they could turn to either Russia, a recent “partner” in managing global oil markets, or more likely China for their nuclear reactors  Either outcome is bad for the US.

Plus, President Biden went to South Korea last May and signed a bilateral agreement to cooperate on nuclear energy exports. Letting the Westinghouse suit go forward to trial is not the kind “cooperation” the South Koreans were thinking of at the time. Behind the scenes the South Koreans are probably making their displeasure known through diplomatic channels. Is anyone in the White House listening?

It would seem to a disinterested observer that the US government has an opportunity to mediate the dispute and not let the issue fester or worse. The blind spot Westinghouse has in pursuing its interests is that the lawsuit is bad for the government, bad for US cooperation with South Korea, and bad for giving either Russia or China a potential 60-80 year run of having significant influence over the energy security of the world’s major oil producer. So far there no news media reports that the Biden administration sees the problem or has taken any steps to address it.

KHNP Says the WEC Claim Lacks a Basis in Fact

Westinghouse is seeking to force KHNP to comply with US laws restricting nuclear power technology sharing. Under these rules – Part 810 requirements (10CFR810) – the US Department of Energy has statutory responsibility for authorizing the transfer of unclassified nuclear technology and assistance to foreign atomic energy activities within the USA or abroad.

KHNP denied that WEC has any legitimate claims. In a statement to the UK-based nuclear trade press magazine ‘Nuclear Engineering Week’ on 10/27, KHNP said,

“After launching its own nuclear program, Korea gradually built up technology, carrying out research and development projects with long-term plans for over 30 years. Thanks to this process, it gained competence in the design, production and construction of nuclear power plants in order to finally develop her own, independent technology.”

KHNP said in its planned exports of Korean nuclear power plants to Poland, “it will use its own nuclear technology developed by Korean companies, to which we have full intellectual property rights. Korean nuclear technology is independent of Westinghouse technology and can be exported without restrictions and without the consent of the US.”

A Short List of You Can’t Get There from Here Factors

Even if WEC were to prevail in court, the victory might not yield the results it seeks.

  • The Saudis didn’t ask WEC to bid on the tender. The firm can’t show up uninvited.
  • The Saudis released the tender last June. It is now October. WEC cannot make up for lost time relative to the Saudi timetable which they have indicated is to rack and stack all bids starting in December and to make a decision on a winner by the end of 2023.
  • Things have changed for the worse in terms of US/Saudi relations. It may be that any thoughts by the US government to cut WEC slack to”help it out with the Saudi tender, via a “waiver” of some kind of the 123 rules is probably not in the cards at least for now.

Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, also known as “MBS,” could simply blow off any litigation in the US on the grounds a federal court has no jurisdiction over his actions. He could then select KHNP to build its reactors. If that happens, from a realist perspective, the US government might breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t China. The Czech government might take the same approach if it so chooses.

MBS has shown with his so-called “deal” on oil production with Russia that he doesn’t do alliances. He makes decisions on a transactional basis in terms of what is good for his country’s interests.

WEC also has a problem it that it has plans to source major long lead time components for the Poland reactors from South Korean heavy industry firms. In the current environment of it lobbing hot legal potatoes at South Korea, it could run into responses that are not in its best interests with this part of its supply chain. It is another reason for the two parties to seek mediation, and a solution, and not allow the case to go to trial.

The Road Ahead Has a Few Potholes

The timing of the Polish decision to award the first three reactors to WEC followed in very close proximity time wise to Brookfield shifting its equity in Westinghouse off its books and on to that of a wholly owned subsidiary plus bringing Canadian uranium miner Cameco into the deal with promises of uranium sales. That doesn’t look from here like its is a coincidence. However, the giant private equity firm does not have infinite deep pockets.

The Bloomberg wire service reported on 11/7  “Poland wants US partner in its first nuclear power plant to have a bigger stake than it offered, Rp.pl reports, citing unidentified person close to the government. According to Rp.pl, Westinghouse offered to take 10% stake in the company building the plant, while Poland would like that share to increase to 49%”

These kinds of contractual negotiations are common, but the leap from 10% to a 49% equity stake may not be what WEC’s owners have in mind to make a deal.

Poland had some internal issues to resolve. Some of the main issues are obvious without the government ever saying a word officially about them. First and foremost, where will it get the money for its 50% share of the cost of the Westinghouse reactors? Polish officials were noncommittal about this topic in response to media questions when the WEC deal was announced.

Just calculate any price in $1000/Kw times the electrical ratings of the three AP1000s and four APR1400s Poland has signed MOU’s for, and what you get is more money than Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck ever had in his treasury.

Does the Polish government have the money, the sustained political will, and the management capability to undertake the effort, to control it, and to avoid becoming captive to the vendors which raises the risks of schedule delays and cost overruns.  It’s not been made public how much financial support the US is offering Poland for the WEC reactors, but one thing is sure. It won’t be a nearly 100% free financial ride like the one Russia is giving Egypt.

On the KHNP side, its bid to Poland offered a much higher level of equity investment to build its reactors than Westinghouse did for theirs. It sweetened with an offer to sell high tech military gear to Poland which it wants given Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. These kind of side deals for major infrastructure and energy tenders are also not uncommon.

Saudi Arabia has Larger Nuclear Ambitions

Saudi officials have told the US that it reserves the right to enrich uranium and to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Both actions are nonproliferation issues that the US avoided with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). That country used the WEC technology KHNP licensed to build four reactors there. The UAE has a 123 agreement, and has committed itself to the provisions of the agreement which ban uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

Also, Saudi Arabia has extensive domestic uranium deposits and contracted with China in August 2020 to build a hard rock uranium mill to process the ore into yellowcake, which is the first step in making nuclear fuel or the bomb making cycle or both.

Lurking in the background is the question of whether Saudi Arabia is pursuing these actions as part of a long term deterrent effort relative to Iran’s nuclear program. Current negotiations with Iran to reinstate the nuclear deal are on hold due to extensive unrest in Iran over its domestic policies.

If China is selected to sell its reactors to Saudi Arabia, it is one more way that country will have influence over the world’s largest oil producer. Note that China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest customer and depends on that supply of fossil fuel to keep it enormous economy energized.

South Korea Inches Toward a Solution

The South Koreans are publicly annoyed over the WEC lawsuit. In a policy paper released in Seoul, and reported by the news media there, the government said that the lawsuit will add complications to the ongoing trade dispute caused by  the USA Congress passing Inflation Reduction Act and calling for the exclusion of Korean-made electric vehicles from tax incentives.

In May, Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden had agreed to strengthen cooperation to jointly advance into overseas nuclear reactor markets. However, “the “nuclear reactor alliance is facing hurdles due to Westinghouse’s self-centered trade policy.”

The Korea Times cited an unnamed industry official who said, “Money trumps alliances. Maintaining amicable diplomatic relations is important, but not as much as financial interests in make-or-break business opportunities that can generate stable sources of income for at least a few years.”

The South Korean news media also reported that the government said it was interested in “minimizing the dispute with the US.”

KEPCO and KHNP said in a joint statement that they will continue efforts to remove any complications in the exports of the country’s nuclear power plants.

“We are aware of the lawsuit. We will outline strategies to respond to the developments in a timely and appropriately manner.”

The people who passed the European taxonomy labeling nuclear energy as “green” probably didn’t anticipate how hard it might be to get to “yes.”

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Poland Plans a Nuclear Fleet of Up to 10 Reactors

  • Poland Signs MOU to Build Six Westinghouse AP1000s
  • South Korea Signs MOU to Build Four APR1400s in Poland
  • OPG Applies For License To Build First SMR At Darlington Site
  • U.S. and Japan in Bilateral Agreement Will Support Export of SMRs to Ghana
  • TVA Plans New Sites for Up to 50 SMRs
  • Mexico 123 Agreement is Confirmed

Poland Commits to a Nuclear Fleet of Big Iron

poland flag mapAfter years of small steps towards a decision to build new full size nuclear reactors, in the past two weeks the government inked an MOU with Westinghouse for two power stations composed of three reactors each. Just days later Poland signed an MOU with South Korea to build four nuclear reactors. The country’s Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin made the announcements last week.

If financing is secured for all 10 nuclear reactors, and the project is completed, probably by the mid 2030s, it would become one of the biggest commitments to nuclear power in Europe.

As delegates gather in Egypt for the COP27 climate conference, the Poland’s plan to replace its coal fired power plants will be an example of what can be done when a country puts its mind to it.

Poland Commits to Westinghouse with a Promise of US Financial Help

(NucNet) Poland has announced that US-based Westinghouse Electric Company has been selected to build the country’s first nuclear power station, a decision that has been pending since 2020 when Warsaw last updated its nuclear energy program. A promise of significant financial support from the US played a major role in the decision.

A schedule released by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki targets commercial operation of a first nuclear unit in a proposed set of six 1150 MW AP1000 PWRs as being planned for 2033, with the rest to follow throughout the 2030s and into the early 2040s.

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Mr Morawiecki said, “After talks with vice-president [Kamala] Harris and US DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm we confirm our nuclear energy project will use the reliable, safe technology of Westinghouse Electric.”

DOE’s Granholm said Warsaw’s decision is a “huge step” towards strengthening the relationship between the US and Poland and creating energy security for future generations.

Poland has ambitious plans to build from 6,000 to 9,000 MW of installed nuclear capacity based on Generation III and III+ large-scale, pressurized water reactor designs. Poland’s MOU with Westinghouse calls for the construction of two nuclear power stations with three reactors each.

At the end of 2021, the Lubiatowo-Kopalino site in the northern province of Pomerania near the Baltic coast was selected as the preferred location for Poland’s first commercial nuclear power station. Other proposed locations have included the central Belchatow and Patnow, both currently homes to coal-fired power generation.

In July 2021, Westinghouse and US partner Bechtel provided Poland’s state-owned Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ) with a front-end engineering and design study for the deployment of two nuclear power stations, each consisting of three 1150 MW AP-1000 pressurized water reactor (PWR) units.

Last month, the US ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski presented the Polish government with a final conceptual offer on the proposed construction of six Westinghouse-made PWRs, including financing commitments.

It is unclear what the price tag will be for the six reactors and how much US financial support will be provided in a final deal. Even with lower labor costs, and significant localization of materials and components, the plants will still be on the high end of costs for equivalent nuclear generating capacity.

Several unconfirmed media reports put the bid price from Westinghouse in the range of $4500/KW. At that benchmark, each reactor would cost about $5.2 billion and all six would cost well over $30 billion taking inflation into account over the five-to-ten years it will take the complete them

Reuters reported this week that the recent announcement by Polish prime-minister Morawiecki concerns the first three nuclear units to be built. A spokesman for the US embassy said, ““It is our expectation that Poland intends to eventually construct six AP1000 reactors from Westinghouse and will make a formal decision about the second set of three at a later date.”

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South Korea Signs MOU to Build Four APR1400s in Poland

(NucNet)  South Korea’s KHNP, with a promise of an equity investment in the project, has signed MOU to build four APR1400s at a site in Poland.

Just days after Westinghouse signed an MOU with the Polish government to build six AP1000s, three each at two sites to replace coal fired power plants, South Korea’s KHNP landed a similar MOU to build four of its 1400 MW APR1400s at one site.

APR1400 schematic

Polish energy companies ZE PAK and PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna) and the Polish ministry of state assets signed a letter of intent with South Korea’s Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) on the proposed construction of a nuclear power station at the central Patnow site.

The aim of the agreement is to assess the available options and to develop by 2022 preliminary plans for the deployment of KHNP’s APR-1400 pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology at Patnow, which currently houses a 1,674-MW coal-fired plant owned by private firm ZE PAK.

Jacek Sasin, Poland’s deputy prime-minister for state assets, said the construction of a nuclear power station at Patnow “is “crucial” for the country.”

In September 2021, ZE PAK, which is the largest private energy firm in Poland, signed an agreement with Synthos Green Energy to explore the deployment of a GE Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular reactor at Patnow. The company said at the time it wanted to invest in four to six SMRs with a capacity of 300 MW each. It isn’t clear whether ZE PAK will continue the SMR project or switch its focus to the APR1400s.

Financing Remains a Question

It is unclear what the delivered cost of the reactors will be.  Unconfirmed media reports put the bid price in the range of $4200/KW taking into account lower labor costs and localization of materials and components.  It is also unclear how KHNP will structure the minority equity investment over time. Polish government officials have not yet provided specifics of how it plans to play for the KHNP and Westinghouse reactors

Poland’s largest energy group issued a note of caution about the Westinghouse and KHNP MOUs especially as completion of financing is still to be arranged for both projects.

In March 2021, Poland’s largest energy group PGE sold to the Polish state treasury its 70% stake in PGE EJ1 (later renamed to PEJ), the company charged at the time with managing the first nuclear project.

PGE, which itself is nearly 60% owned by the Polish state treasury, had been wary of the financial burden of a nuclear new-build project. Its chief executive Wojciech Dabrowski had said on several occasions that a large investment in nuclear would exceed the financial capabilities of the company.

“Poland needs to invest in large-scale nuclear power in order to replace coal-based conventional energy in the future. Together with investments in renewables, this will be the basis of our energy security.”

“This is particularly important given the global energy crisis and fossil fuel market constraints caused by Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he said.

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OPG Applies For License To Build First SMR At Darlington Site

Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has submitted a construction license application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which could pave the way to the deployment of a small modular reactor (SMR) at the site of the Darlington nuclear power station.

OPG said in a statement the application consists of several document packages which will be consecutively provided to CNSC over the next six months.

OPG is collaborating with TVA sharing lessons learned about design and licensing the BWRX300. In Canada the GEH reactor is still in Phase 2 of the CNSC Vendor Design Review (VDR) process. Similarly, in the US GE Hitachi continues to work with the NRC submitting topical reports as part of a pre-licensing dialog. OPG will proceed with non-nuclear work at the Darlington site for now.

The company said the CNSC application has been jointly prepared in partnership with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), which has proposed its BWRX-300 SMR for deployment at Darlington.

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OPG said in an email statement to this blog the Vendor Design Review (VDR) process and the License to Construct application process are separate and distinct.

“The VDR is an optional service provided by CNSC when requested by a vendor and is not required in order to submit a License to Construct application.

“A VDR is a feedback mechanism that enables CNSC staff to provide feedback early in the design process based on a vendor’s reactor technology. The conclusions of any design review do not bind or otherwise influence decisions made by the Commission. The GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 VDR is in progress and phase 2 is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.”

“In parallel, OPG’s License to Construct application includes a detailed review of technology and associated safety systems. Key licensing documents will be available on OPG’s website over the next few weeks.”

In December 2021, OPG selected GEH as its technology partner for its Darlington SMR project. The first grid-scale plant is scheduled to be completed by 2028.

This new license submission comes after site preparation activities began in early October. Site preparation works are expected to continue into 2025 and consist of non-nuclear infrastructure activities, such as clearing and grading a portion of the new nuclear site to build roads, utilities and support buildings.

The Darlington SMR will be one of the first ever developed and is expected to spearhead similar projects in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta, with interest also growing in the US and Europe.

GEH’s BWRX-300 is a 300-MW water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems and based on an existing boiling water reactor design – the ESBWR – that is licensed in the US. It also uses an existing, licensed fuel design.

GEH has said the reactor will require significantly less capital cost per MW when compared to other water-cooled SMR designs or existing large nuclear reactor designs.

Darlington, east of Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario, is the only site in Canada with an approved environmental assessment and regulatory license for new nuclear. The station has four CANDU PHWRs in commercial operation.

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U.S. and Japan Bilateral Agreement to Support Export of SMRs to Ghana

The US said it will work with Japan toward exporting small nuclear reactor technology to Ghana, with the two allies promoting the advanced power generation method to help other countries meet their clean energy goals.

In an initial step to support the deployment of a so-called small modular reactor in the  African country, a feasibility study is planned to be conducted by companies including Japanese heavy machinery manufacturer IHI, plant builder JGC as well as NuScale Power, a small modular reactor developer based in the United States.

Through the project, Ghana will have the opportunity “not only to demonstrate leadership in advancing energy security and climate action globally, but also establish itself as a regional center of excellence in Africa for the deployment of innovative nuclear technologies,” the U.S. State Department said.

The department also said the United States, Japan and Ghana are committed to “upholding the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation.”

In 2021, the United States launched an initiative to support the use of small modular reactor technology. Countries such as Japan, Britain, Estonia, Ghana, the Philippines, Romania, South Korea and Ukraine are also engaged in the initiative, according to a joint statement issued in August this year.

More than 80 small modular reactor designs are under development in 19 countries and the first such units are already in operation in China and Russia, the IAEA said.

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TVA Plans New Sites for Up to 50 SMRs

TVA has told the US Department of Energy that it is now planning to build new small modular reactors (SMRs) within its multi-state service area to replace coal fired power plants.

“This project will screen the TVA service area to help determine suitable sites for future ANR (advanced nuclear reactor) deployment,” TVA said.

“TVA will work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) subject matter experts and the Oak Ridge Siting Analysis for power Generation Expansion (OR-SAGE) tool to assist in defining suitable candidate sites for ANR development.”

The TVA board in February authorized spending up to $200 million to pursue plans for several small modular reactors on the site of the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Oak Ridge. The utility’s early site permit for the project calls for up to 800 MW of generating capacity which implies multiple SMRs each with less than 300 MW of power.

In August, TVA announced an agreement with the manufacturer of the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 to pursue their small reactor design for the Oak Ridge site.

TVA President Jeff Lyash said he hopes to put these SMRs into revenue service within the next decade and, if successful, to pursue similar small modular reactors at other sites in the Tennessee Valley. He told news media in TVA’s home town of Chattanogga, TN, that the utility might be looking long term at up to 50 SMRs at various sites in its multi-state service area.

The TVA board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must still sign off of the new reactors. Also, to finance them it may be necessary for TVA to ask Congress to raise its debt ceiling to pay for them.

“We are taking a disciplined, phased approach,” Lyash told TVA directors in August.

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Mexico 123 Agreement is Confirmed

(Wire Services)  A bilateral agreement on nuclear energy between the United States and Mexico entered into force, the U.S. State Department adding that it will enhance cooperation on energy security.

The agreement is the “first bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation” between the two countries, the department said.

Known as 123 agreements, such accords pave the way the peaceful transfer of nuclear material, equipment and information from the United States in adherence with nonproliferation requirements.

The US Department of State said in a press announcement, “The United States and Mexico’s Agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy entered into force. The agreement will enhance our cooperation on energy security and strengthen our diplomatic and economic relationship.”

“This is the first bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the United States and Mexico. The Agreement builds on the nearly 80 years of peaceful nuclear cooperation between our two countries and establishes the conditions for continued U.S. civil nuclear trade with Mexico.”

“Civil nuclear cooperation agreements, also known as 123 agreements, provide a legal framework for exports of nuclear material, equipment, and components from the United States to another country. This agreement provides a comprehensive framework for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Mexico based on a mutual commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. It will permit the transfer of nuclear material, equipment (including reactors), components, and information for nuclear research and nuclear power production.”

Mexico and the United States signed the agreement in 2018, but Mexico’s Senate did not give its approval until March of this year.

The Mexican state power utility, Comision Federal de Electricidad, has one nuclear plant operating two reactors. Energy Minister Rocio Nahle has described nuclear energy as “clean, safe, constant and profitable.”

While Mexico has not announced plans for new nuclear reactors, the use of SMRs at coastal sites could support desalination of seawater for the country’s desert regions.

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Posted in Nuclear | 4 Comments