Karios, Moltex, See Progress in Funding; First Canadian SMR, an HTGR, Submits License Application to CNSC

  • Karios Power gets DOE Funding; Participates in GAIN/INL Voucher Program
  • Moltex Energy Secures multi-million dollar Investment from Major Engineering Firm
  • First Canadian SMR license application submitted for an HTGR SMR

DOE Awards Funding to Karios Power
Fluoride Molten Salt HTGR 

Award Received in Partnership with Argonne National Laboratory

Gain logoThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week that Kairos Power is a recipient of a Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) Nuclear Energy voucher.

The GAIN vouchers provide advanced nuclear technology companies access to the research facilities and technical expertise within the DOE national laboratories.

This project partners Kairos Power with Argonne National Laboratory to develop design rules for high temperature corrosion resistant structures and helps accelerate construction of Kairos Power’s fluoride salt-cooled, high-temperature nuclear reactor (KP-FHR).

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with Argonne National Laboratory on this important initiative,” said Dr. Micah Hackett, Director of Technology Development at Kairos Power.

The goal of this project is to develop design rules to enable the use of corrosion resistant cladding at the high temperatures relevant to advanced reactors, similar to methods used in conventional water-cooled reactors.

Development of this design methodology will be generally beneficial to advanced reactor development.  Furthermore, the ability to use cladding will improve the safety, reliability, and economic advantages inherent to the KP-FHR design.

DOE Funding Comes to Karios Power in Two Awards

  • Modeling and Simulation Development Pathways to Accelerate KP-FHR Licensing

Under this proposal, Kairos Power will bring forward in the schedule critical advanced modeling and simulation capability through the DOE NEAMS program.
DOE Funding: $5,000,000; Non-DOE: $5,112,519; Total Value: $10,112,519

  • Regulatory Assistance Grant pathway:

Technology Pre-Application Licensing Report on the Development of a Mechanistic Source Term Methodology for the Kairos Power Fluoride Cooled High Temperature Reactor (KP-FHR).

Kairos Power, LLC will develop a mechanistic source term for the KP-FHR design including consideration of radionuclides generated and transported in the fuel particle and the barriers to release for licensing basis event analyses.

DOE Funding: $500,000; Non-DOE: $203,957; Total Value: $703,957

How the Karios Reactor Design Works

The Kairos Power FHR (KP-FHR) is a novel advanced reactor technology that leverages TRISO fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. The technology uses an efficient and flexible steam cycle to convert heat from fission into electricity and to complement renewable energy sources.

See this briefing which Karios Power gave to the NRC ( Design Overview for the Kairos Power Fluoride Salt-Cooled, High Temperature Reactor (ML18309A299.pdf) for design details of the reactor.

karops power concept image

Design Details of Karios Reactor   Source: NRC Briefing ML18309A299

Rather than water, as used in conventional nuclear reactors, the Kairos Power reactor uses molten fluoride salt as a coolant. Molten fluoride salts tremendous capacity for transferring heat at high temperature and retaining fission products. Various U.S. reactor studies confirm the compatibility of molten fluoride salts with conventional high-temperature structural materials (e.g. stainless steel), thus enabling commercially attractive reliability and service life.

Kairos Power’s reactor uses fully ceramic fuel,  TRISO Pebbles, which maintains structural integrity even at extremely high temperatures. This fuel will be undamaged to well above the melting temperatures of conventional metallic reactor fuels. By using pebble-type fuel, Kairos Power reactors can refuel on line, enabling exceptional reliability and availability.

Passive safety means that Kairos Power reactors do not require electricity to remove heat from the core after shutting down. Kairos Power reactors have uniquely large safety margins based on the selected combination of fuel and coolant, which allows emergency cooling to be driven by fundamental physics rather than engineered systems.

MSR designs have several inherent safety advantages. The first, and possibly the most important, is that the reactor is operated at low pressure because the coolants never approach boiling point. Even in an accident, there would be no force expelling materials from the reactor, and no high-pressure containment system would be required to prevent such a release.

In addition, under accident conditions MSRs can rely on convection currents—otherwise known as natural circulation—to circulate the cooling salts. This passive safety feature relies on the fact that hot liquids naturally rise and cooler ones sink. Coolant will therefore continue to circulate through the reactor and remove excess heat indefinitely, even if power is lost to the reactor.

In Kairos Power’s reactor, there is no need to provide for make-up coolant (since the coolant cannot boil away), and the fuel tolerance for extremely high temperatures allows orders of magnitude more cooling capability under accident scenarios compared to water-cooled reactors. High-temperature fuel and coolant dramatically simplifies emergency cooling under all conceivable accidents.

About Kairos Power

karios logoAccording to its website, Kairos Power is a nuclear energy technology and engineering company whose mission is to enable the world’s transition to clean energy with the ultimate goal of dramatically improving people’s quality of life while protecting the environment.

This goal will be accomplished through the commercialization of the Kairos Power fluoride salt-cooled, high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR) that can be deployed with robust safety and at affordable cost.

If you have nuclear engineering expertise, and want to work for an advanced nuclear energy startup, Karios is hiring.

About the GAIN Voucher Program

GAIN announces second-round FY-2019 Nuclear Energy Voucher recipients. GAIN Nuclear Energy (NE) Vouchers to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. NE vouchers provide advanced nuclear technology innovators with access to the extensive nuclear research capabilities and expertise available across the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory complex. This is the second set of awards in FY 2019.

The GAIN NE Voucher Program accepts applications on innovation that supports production and utilization of nuclear energy (e.g., for generation of electricity, supply of process heat, etc.) in the following general topic areas:

  • Analysis and evaluation of, and for, advanced reactor concepts and associated designs, including development of licensing information or strategies
  • Structural material and component development, testing and qualification
  • Advanced nuclear fuel development, fabrication and testing (includes fuel materials
    and cladding)
  • Development, testing, and qualification of instrumentation, controls, and sensor technologies that are hardened for harsh environments and secured against cyber intrusion
  • Modeling and simulation, high-performance computing, codes and methods
  • Technical assistance from subject matter experts and/or data/information to support technology development and/or confirm key technical or licensing issues

GAIN NE voucher recipients do not receive direct financial awards. The GAIN nuclear energy vouchers provide access to national laboratory capabilities at no cost to the voucher recipients. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20 percent cost share, which could be an in-kind contribution. Further information on the GAIN nuclear energy voucher program as well as current and all past awards may be found here.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) established GAIN to provide the nuclear community with the technical, regulatory and financial support necessary to move innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercialization while ensuring the continued safe, reliable and economic operation of the existing nuclear fleet.

Through GAIN, DOE is making its state-of-the-art and continuously improving RD&D infrastructure available to stakeholders to achieve faster and cost-effective development of innovative nuclear energy technologies toward commercial readiness.

Moltex Energy Secures Investment
from A Major Engineering Firm

moltex logoMoltex Energy has secured a substantial investment from IDOM Consulting, Engineering, Architecture SAU, a prestigious and innovative global consulting & engineering company with a large, experienced and successful nuclear engineering practice worldwide.

The multi-million dollar (USD) investment allows Moltex to expand its New Brunswick office and accelerate its pre-licensing progress through Vendor Design Review (VDR).

IDOM will be joining the New Brunswick Modular Reactor cluster led by New Brunswick Power, announced last summer. IDOM’s extensive experience in the design of molten salt facilities for the Concentrated Solar Power industry will help Moltex take a massive step towards the construction of the first of a kind Stable Salt Reactor (SSR), including GridReserve®energy storage that allows SSR equipped nuclear power plants to have variable output.

IDOM will also be working closely with Moltex Energy both in Canada and in Spain, with particular emphasis on mechanical engineering, thermal hydraulics and the use of molten salts.

About Moltex Energy

Moltex Energy is a nuclear technology development company. Existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel can be used as the fuel source, and the energy can be stored with its patented GridReserve® technology, to enable a larger expansion of renewables in a carbon-free grid.

About IDOM Nuclear

IDOM Group is an employee-owned company developing projects in more than 125 countries. IDOM takes part in the most advanced and innovative projects in the world in power generation, infrastructures, architecture, consulting and nuclear fields providing clear added value to their clients. IDOM Nuclear Services is present in more than 15 countries through the complete nuclear energy & research life cycle. IDOM participates in commercial nuclear projects, research reactor and nuclear medicine projects with a considerable number of fusion projects in ITER.

About New Brunswick Power

NB Power is the primary electric utility in New Brunswick and was established in 1920. It serves over 400,000 customers with safe, reliable and efficient electricity.

First Canadian SMR License Application Submitted to CNSC

(NucNet): Canada’s nuclear regulator has received the country’s first license application to build a small modular nuclear power reactor.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) said the application, from Global First Power with support from Ontario Power Generation and which is being developed by Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, is to deploy a 5 Mwe micro modular reactor (MMR) plant at Chalk River in Ontario.

The companies confirmed their submission of the application, which is in response to an invitation issued in April 2018 by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories for the construction and operation of an SMR demonstration unit at a CNL-managed site.

The application for a license to prepare a site for an SMR at Chalk River was submitted on 20 March 2019. The regulator’s licensing process begins with a “sufficiency review” of the application. If and when the project description is assessed as complete, the next step for the regulator would be to issue a notice of commencement. The project description would then become available for public comment as part of the environmental assessment process.

In February Global First Power’s proposal became the first to advance to the third stage of CNL’s four-step review process, meaning the GFP consortium could discuss land arrangements, project risk management, and contractual terms.

Global First Power (GFP) is an independent energy provider specializing in project development, licensing, ownership and operation of small nuclear power plants to supply clean power and heat to remote industrial operations and residential settlements. GFP is a federally incorporated Canadian company located in Mississauga, Ontario.

In 2017, CNL set the ambitious goal of siting an SMR on a CNL-managed site by 2026. It received 19 expressions of interest from technology developers interested in building a prototype or demonstration reactor at a CNL site.

In February Terrestrial Energy and Starcore Nuclear completed the pre-qualification stage of the same invitation process.

The proposed GFP project includes a nuclear plant containing an MMR unit. The plant will provide approximately 15 MW (thermal) of process heat (up to 5 MW of electricity) to an adjacent plant where it will be converted to electrical power or heat for clients. The electrical power could also be supplied to the area grid.

“The MMR technology is an economically competitive alternative to greenhouse gas emitting diesel power and heat generation, with a smaller environmental footprint,” GFP said.

GFP said it hopes that the MMR system will replace diesel in remote mines and communities that do not have access to the electricity grid as well as provide broad benefits in addressing energy-related issues in the indigenous communities in the north. The MMR™ plant can operate as a stand-alone remote plant.

Profile of the MMR Energy System

Predictable Power – The reactor core consists of hexagonal graphite blocks containing stacks of fuel pellets. The MMR™ reactor core has a low power density and a high heat capacity resulting in very slow and predictable temperature changes. The MMR™ reactor is fueled once for its lifetime.

Helium Coolant – Helium gas is the MMR™ reactor’s primary coolant. The helium passes through the nuclear core and is heated by the controlled nuclear fission process. The helium then transports the heat away from the core to the Molten Salt System.

high-temperature-reactor-htr-hi-res

A Conceptual Diagram of a High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor Using TRISO Fuel.  Image courtesy of World Nuclear Association

The MMR™ reactor uses helium as it is an inert gas; a radiologically transparent, single-phase gas with no flashing or boiling possible. Helium does not react chemically with the fuel or reactor core components. It is easy to accurately measure and control the helium pressure in the reactor. The Fully Ceramic Microencapsulatged FCM™ fuel ensures the helium is clean and free of fission products.  See also this paper on FCM fuel from ORNL.

FCM™ fuel cannot be re-processed, it can only be used to generate heat. FCM™ fuel reactions cannot grow or be forced out of control – FCM™ fuel is secure.

The reactor, using helium coolant, has an outlet temperature of 630 degrees Celsius.  The plant is never refueled and has a service life of 20 years. The nuclear fission products are locked in the fuel particles permanently.

The MMR™ plant is simple to operate, and flexible in its outputs. The use of molten salt thermal storage allows for significant flexibility in the supply of both electricity and process heat.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Russia to Build Four 1200 MW VVER at Two Sites in China

  • Russia’s Atomstroyexport has confirmed the schedule for four new Generation III+ VVER nuclear power units to be built at the Tianwan and Xudabao nuclear sites in China.  Both sites are located on China’s eastern coastline.
  • Construction of Tianwan-7 will begin in May 2021, Xudabao-3 in October 2021, Tianwan-8 in March 2022 and Xudabao-4 in August 2022.
  • Commercial operation of the Tianwan units is scheduled for 2026 and 2027 while the first Xudabao unit will begin commercial operation in 2028.
  • Two of the units at Xudabao were at one time scheduled to be Westinghouse AP1000s.

china nuclear plants map WNN

World Nuclear News reports that the VVER-1200 projects in China will differ slightly to units of the same design built in Russia owing to different soil, climate and water supply features. In addition, the Russian export agency said in its media statement that China has a number of specific requirements related to nuclear, radiation and fire safety, and environmental impact.

Rosatom describes the VVER-1200 as a Generation III+ power unit, which has a number of economic and safety advantages when compared to the previous generation (VVER-1000). It is 20% more powerful; requires 30-40% fewer operator personnel; and its operating period is longer, at 60 years, with the possibility of extension by an additional 20 years.

The contract is reportedly valued at CNY 20 billion (USD$2.98 billion). China will provide financing, with Russia responsible for the nuclear island only – indicating significant localization of the supply chain. This arrangement may account for the relatively low figure for the value of the Russian contract.

Tianwan Units 1 & 2, which are 1000/V-428 VVER, were completed in 2007. Tianwan 3 & 4, which are the same design, were completed in February and December 2018 respectively.

Tianwan Units 5 & 6 are under construction and are ACPR1000 design which is an early version of the Hualong One.

Xudabao Units 1 & 2 are CAP 1000 design and are expected to be completed this year. Units 5 & 6 are also scheduled for this site, but don’t have an official start date. The current design for them is also the CAP1000. This may change by the time the government gets around to authorizing a start for them.

Profile of the VVER 1200

VVER-1200 is a flagship nuclear reactor and a core product of ROSATOM’s export offerings. The design is based on the VVER-1000 reactors that were built in India (Kudankulam) and China (Tianwan) in the 1990s and 2000s. Full technical details here

The VVER 1200 is a thermal neutron reactor with pressurized water used both as coolant and moderator. Its design provides for a two-circuit steam generating system with four cooling loops, main circulation pump, pressurizer, relief and emergency valves on steam pipes, and accumulator tanks of the emergency core cooling system (ECCS).

See the diagram below with a link to a link to an indepth technical description of the reactor by its principal designers.

VVER diagram

Title: New generation first-of-the kind unit – VVER-1200 design features
Nuclear Energy and Technology; Volume 3, Issue 4, December 2017, Pages 260-269 Link

Authors: V.G.Asmolova; N.Gusev; V.R.Kazanskiy; V.P.Povarov; D.B.Statsura
Corresponding Author: KazanskiyVR@nvnpp1.rosenergoatom.ru
National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute).
Image Source: Creative Commons License 

According to a Rosatom fact sheet, the VVER-1200 has a 20% higher power capacity while having a size comparable to VVER-1000. It also has an extended 60-year service life, load following capability, high capacity utilization (90%), and an 18-month refueling cycle. The reactor is also designed to accommodate MOX fuel.

Compared to the VVER 1000 design, the number of personnel has been decreased by 30% to 40% (on a per MW basis) due to automation, and the centralization of functions and processes.

The U.S. staffing factor historically has averaged about 0.7FTE per MW. Thus, a 1000 MW unit would require 700 staff. A 40% reduction would drop staffing to 420 FTE. If these numbers are comparable to the 1200 MW VVER, the announced change in staffing for that unit would be a significant cost competitive advantage for Rosatom’s customers.

In terms of spent fuel Rosatom customers are usually required to return the spent fuel to Russia for reprocessing to make MOX fuel for its fast reactors. Rosatom charges its customers for the costs of shipping the fuel home.

Also, customers are required to sign up for fuel deliveries for the service life of the reactor – in the case of these four 1200 MW units 60-80 years.  China has just recently qualified the fuel for its Hualong One design, but does not have the ability to fabricate fuel for a VVER 1200.

Rosatom has current as well as planned VVER-1200 construction projects in Bangladesh, Belarus, Finland, Egypt, and Hungary.

CNNC Chairman Says China
Can Build Up To Eight New Reactors A Year

(NucNet): China will be able to build six to eight nuclear reactors a year if project approval processes return to normal as expected in the near future, the chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said in a recent statement to English language media in China.

Channel News Asia said China did not approve any new conventional nuclear projects for three years before giving the go-ahead for two new nuclear power stations in earlier this year.

After a two year pause, China has authorized two projects to break ground. They will each build twin 1000 MW Hualong One reactors. Both projects are coastal sites and the result will four new Gen III design PWRs. Plans to build four Hualong One nuclear reactors at these coastal sites, Huizhou, Zhanghou, were already on short list for new construction starts as long ago as March 2018.

Despite this rosy outlook a different story emerges from a  forecast from the China Electricity Council.. It says China will fall short of its nuclear power generation capacity target for 2020.

The country’s installed nuclear power generation capacity is expected to reach 53 GW next year, below a target of 58 GW, council vice-chairman Wei Shaofeng told an industry conference in Beijing last week, according to Chinese media reports.

~ Other Nuclear News ~

Saudi Arabia Plans To Issue Nuclear Tender In 2020

(NucNet): Saudi Arabia plans to issue a tender in 2020 to construct its first two commercial nuclear power reactors and is discussing the project with US and other potential suppliers, sources familiar with the plans told wire services including Reuters.

Reuters reported sources as saying the project was proceeding slowly partly because the kingdom was still in discussions with all potential suppliers rather than narrowing them down to a short list.

In January Saudi Arabia said it had received offers from five countries to build the first two nuclear power plants in the kingdom.

Khalid Al-Sultan, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, said the countries are Russia, China, the US, France and South Korea.

At the time the government said on social media that it had approved a national program for nuclear energy which stipulates that “all nuclear activities will serve only peaceful purposes within the framework defined by international agreements.”

Earlier this week US senators from both parties asked energy secretary Rick Perry for details about recent approvals under 10CFR810 for companies to share nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia, with the lawmakers expressing concern about possible development of nuclear weapons. (More on this below)

The Trump administration is said to have been negotiating a deal that would potentially help Saudi Arabia build two commercial nuclear reactors.

Last month news reports revealed that since November 2017, Mr Perry has authorized so-called Part 810 approvals allowing US companies to share sensitive nuclear information with the kingdom.

Senators from both parties have asked Mr Perry to provide them by 10 April with the names of the companies that got the 810 approvals, what was in the authorizations, and why the companies asked that the approvals be kept secret.

What’s in a Section 810 Approval?

The political dust up over Secretary Perry’s approvals of transfers of information about nuclear technologies to Saudi Arabia under 10CRF810 has led to widespread perplexity about what he really did, whether it was legal, and has also raised questions about the  ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia for a 123 Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act.

Due to significant angst in Congress over Saudi Arabia’s violations of human rights, the war in Yemen, and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashhoggi, the appearance of “secret transfers” of nuclear information to that country turned Secretary Perry into a political dart board.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was swept into the flood of outrage when the news media first reported that the agency had not been consulted about Perry’s actions. It turns out NRC staff had reviewed the transfers, but had not briefed the five agency commission members.

The Washington Post subsequently reported on 03 April 2019 that the NRC staff was consulted, and had no objections to the recommendations, before these authorizations were granted.  NRC Commissioners had told a Senate hearing the previous day they had no knowledge of the transfers.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry’s trade association, has been try to shed some light on the situation which has generated so much political heat. In particular, NEI has posted an explanation why some information in Section 810 decisions is sometimes kept confidential. (NEI Section 810 FAQ – PDF file)

“U.S. companies applying for a Part 810 authorization are typically required by DOE to submit detailed business proprietary information about their business plans, market opportunities and technology. Confidentiality of this information promotes open, honest communication between industry and the U.S. government on matters of nuclear safety and security.

Competitors can learn about company corporate strategies, market opportunities, and engagement plans from the information contained in a Part 810 authorization. Keeping proprietary information in Part 810 authorizations out of the public domain protects U.S. innovation and export opportunities.”

What DOE Cannot Do Under an 810 Decision

NEI also pointed on in its “Frequently Asked Questions” briefing what the law does not allow the government to do. Part 810 controls the transfer of unclassified nuclear “technology” (technical assistance and technical data) overseas and to foreign nationals.

Part 810 does not authorize the transfer of classified information, such as data about nuclear weapons and other military nuclear technologies or nuclear propulsion technology.

Further, Part 810 does not authorize the export of any nuclear equipment or material such as uranium or nuclear fuel. Part 810 does authorize the transfer of technology for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of commercial nuclear reactors and key equipment and components for these reactors.

So What Does it All Mean?

Bottom line – Sec Perry appears to have been compliant with the law in making the 810 transfers, and in keeping some information secret, but in terms of political optics, to use a slang baseball term, he put his foot in the bucket with Congress.

He made the decisions as far back as November 2017 while also at the same time telling Congress he was taking a strong position in Section 123 negotiations with Saudi Arabia. The collision of facts with the appearance, but not the reality, of deception is what set some peoples’ hair on fire.

fish-in-newspaper2In any case, given the bizarre nature of the super-charged DC media cycle, by the time you read this, some other excitement and alarm will be dominating the news cycle and this issue will be more or less suitable, in newspaper terms, for wrapping fish.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Is DOE Headed for Trouble with Congress Over Its Transfers of Nuclear Expertise to Saudi Arabia without a 123 Agreement?

DOE Perry

Rick Perry

The Daily Beast reported on March 26 that the Department of Energy has secretly approved six authorizations for U.S. firms seeking to conduct nuclear energy work in Saudi Arabia.

The approvals by DOE Energy Secretary Rick Perry, which took place under “Part 810” (10CFR810) of a key federal regulation, starting in November 2017, requires the firms to get clearance from the government for exporting nuclear technology, or for engaging in production or development of special nuclear materials, such as fuel, for export.

In this case, the Daily Beast reports the transfers appear to be documents, electronic media, or consulting expert knowledge. The transfers began in November 2017 while DOE was also negotiating with Saudi Arabia over the terms and conditions of a 123 Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act.

Congress Not Happy to Get the News

Predictably, Congress was not happy to get the news about the secret transfers from the media. Reuters reports that in a March 27 congressional hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) roasted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the issue of the transfers.

“ . . . it is an effort to evade Congress, and to some extent evade your department and provide substantial nuclear technology and aid to Saudi Arabia while [the country] refuses to abide by any of the controls we would like to see regarding reprocessing, enrichment.”

Sherman has previous introduced legislation in Congress to prevent Saudi Arabia from obtaining the means to develop nuclear weapons. A matching bipartisan bill has been offered in the Senate by Sens. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

Roll Call report March 29 that the news of the transfers has members of both parties worried about them. The concern is whether Trump’s administration is attempting to skirt legal oversight involving a potential nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia. The paper reported a growing number of lawmakers are worried that nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia will backfire.

The Hill also reported a series of rapid fire reactions over the issue.

  • Senate Foreign Relations member Rand Paul in an interview with CQ said he was concerned about the administration trying to skirt congressional oversight of Saudi nuclear cooperation.

“I am very concerned about sharing any nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Given the chance, I’ll vote against it.”

  • Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who leads the Foreign Relations subcommittee with responsibility for Middle East issues, said he would be “happy” to examine the issue.
  • Earlier this month, Rubio and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, wrote to the head of the Government Accountability Office, requesting an “urgent review of DOE’s interactions with Saudi Arabia regarding nuclear cooperation.”

What Really Happened?

No actual exports of equipment or special nuclear materials are reported to be taking place but transfer of technical details are just as important. Saudi Arabia’s capability to absorb any nuclear technology and execute with it is limited without outside expertise.

Note: Part 810 refers to the process set forth in 10 Code of Federal Regulations Part 810. Under the authority of section 57.b of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Details on the procedures for approving nuclear exports under this regulation are explained here

The companies involved in the transfers were not named in the Daily Beast reports. However, a look at the list of companies that attended the White House meeting on nuclear exports in February provides a short list of firms likely to have been involved in the six authorizations.

A plausible guess of which firms got any of the six transfers would involve firms that can deliver nuclear reactors, enrich fuel to burn in them, and provide operational expertise to run them. Saudi Arabia has a tender in place for two full size nuclear reactors. A decision on a winner is expected later this year.

Secrecy in Matters Involving Nuclear Exports

While there is nothing illegal about the government withholding proprietary information related to the transfers under 10CFR810, in addition to setting off serious angst in Congress, the secrecy in which they were done reduces confidence of other nations in what the U.S. says about 123 agreements.

The Washington Post reported on March 28 that Perry’s approvals of transfers of information under Sec 810 go back to November 2017 which means that they was going on while he was telling Congress and the press the agency was holding firm on the “gold standard” for a 123 Agreement in its negotiations with Saudi Arabia. That’s not a good coincidence of facts with narrative.

The “gold standard” is one adopted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which says the country will not engage in enrichment of nuclear fuel nor reprocessing of spent fuel in return for permission to import commercial nuclear reactors and the fuel to run them (U235 at 3-5%). Saudi Arabia has reportedly refused to accept these terms in its talks with the U.S.

Statements made by the U.S, and by Saudi Arabia at the Munich Security Conference in mid-February lay out their public negotiation positions which do not appear to have changed since then.

The Trump administration is looking for ways to circumvent the need for a 123 agreement. In late February State Dept. official Chris Ford did some tap dancing about using less formal means of “helping nations develop their nuclear infrastructure” e.g., management systems, regulatory and safety oversight capabilities, etc., without actually transferring technologies or violating the provisions of Sec 123 of the Atomic Energy Act.

Sec Perry points out in his statement of 3/28/19, Part 810 authorization does not allow the transfer of nuclear material, equipment or components. Also, there is a multi-agency review process.

Appearances Matter Even if All Actions were Legal

fig leaf

It appears that “fig leaf” of proprietary information is being used to keep some information from Congress. As a practical matter Perry would be foolish to lie about something like this because he knows that too many other agencies and people have been involved in the process. It will not play well with Congress even if all his actions are legal.

Perry’s problem with Congress is about appearances. The reason the current uproar is about appearances is that Saudi Arabia is not disposed to be held accountable for its actions regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its string of repressive measures regarding human rights. This has produced a lot of righteous speeches in Congress, but the key action has been the votes against the war in Yemen.

These votes indicate a generally hostile view of Saudi Arabia by Congress. It will influence some members of Congress to be unwilling to trust the country with nuclear technologies even if they do not involve enrichment or reprocessing. The history of Iran’s “secret” nuclear program will also be a shadow that will be cast over the Saudi 123 negotiations.

Where Perry Gets its Wrong About Russia and China and Nuclear Fuel

In an effort to justify his actions, DOE Secretary Rick Perry slammed Russia and China as being indifferent to nonproliferation issues in their commercial nuclear export deals. In other words, the U.S. has to counter a “threat” from these countries.

That’s not exactly true. Perry has been conflating (video link) their aggressive export programs of commercial reactors with violations of the nuclear nonproliferation agreements both countries are party to with the U.S., the U.K., and France, among others.

Russia – Actually, Rosatom’s term sheet for commercial nuclear deals requires the client state to buy fuel for the reactors from Russia for the lifetime of the reactor, usually 60 years, thus removing a justification for enrichment, and to return the spent fuel, once it is cool enough, to be shipped in dry casks, to Russia for reprocessing. Russia is developing advanced reactors that can use MOX fuel and has two of them in commercial revenue service.

Russia is hard over about having only Russian nuclear fuel run in its 1000 MW and 1200 MW VVER PWR type reactors which it offers as exports to countries like India, Egypt, and Turkey. Russia wants to sell the fuel to customers and wants to get the spent fuel back. It’s cash money both ways and not something Russia would willingly give up.

China – State owned nuclear firms in China have completed the fuel qualification process for fuel assemblies for its domestic design of a 1000 MW PWR – the Hualong One – which suggests it will require customers to buy their fuel for any of these units involved in export deals.

As China has not yet completed any deals for nuclear exports, we haven’t seen what their plans are for dealing with spent fuel. It is reasonable to assume that customers for Hualong One units, having no spent fuel management programs themselves, would want China to take it back.

China has kept Areva at arms length for years over plans for an 800 tonne/year plant spent fuel reprocessing plant which was first discussed in 2007. It has no domestic source of MOX fuel.

Recent bilateral talks between French President Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping contained the usual diplomatic information about signing off on a deal, but not a schedule for inking one and breaking ground on the $15 billion facility.

Generally, and at least since 2016, China has had a long term vision of a closed fuel cycle which means the spent fuel from domestic or exported reactors comes back for future reprocessing to create MOX or to recover the U238 for use in CANDU PHWRs.

China’s position on return of spent fuel from export deals for Hualong One reactors will probably be the same as Russia’s, but until they sign one, we’ll have to wait to see what that looks like.

Separately, for nations that already have CANDU reactors, and are interested in buying new ones, their spent fuel management programs may be sufficient. Examples include Romania and Argentina.

& & &

Taken together there are a whole bunch of red flags about where the US / Saudi relationship is headed, but any actual transfers of nuclear technologies, as licensed by the NRC under the authority of a 123 Agreement, appear to be a long way off.

Congress could, given the current atmosphere, vote against approval of any 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia that doesn’t include the “gold standard.”

For its part, Saudi Arabia has made it clear it has alternatives to the U.S. such as Pakistan for enrichment technology and China for nuclear reactors. However, neither nation is going to provide the security guarantee that Saudi Arabia has sought to maintain over time from the U.S.

The fat lady has not yet sung on the question of whether Saudi Arabia will get to buy nuclear technologies from the U.S.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Westinghouse Launches New SMR Effort

small-reactors_thumb.jpg

After several earlier false starts, including a complete withdrawal in 2014 from efforts to enter the SMR market, Westinghouse buoyed with a $12.9 million grant from the Department of Energy, is making another go of it. The firm said it will spend $28.9 million to demonstrate the readiness of the technology of its 25-MWe eVinci micro-reactor by 2022.

The government money, which is covering about half of the costs, will cover costs used toward design, analysis, licensing to manufacture, siting, and testing work.

According to Power Magazine, eVinci’s design is envisioned to operate autonomously. Its reactor core is a solid-steel monolith that features channels for fuel pellets, the moderator (metal hydride), and heat pipes, which are arranged in a hexagonal pattern.

Westinghouse eVinci

Conceptual Design of the eVinci SMR – Image: Westinghouse

The monolith will serve as the second fission product barrier (the fuel pellet is the first barrier) as well as the thermal medium between the fuel channels and heat pipes. The heat pipes will extract heat from the core using a technology based on thermal conductivity and fluid phase transition.

Key Technical Attributes

On its website Westinghouse said the reactor’s small size and innovative design set it apart. (Technical Profile – PDF file) Here’s a short list of key technical details.

  • Transportable as a reliable energy generator
  • Fully factory built, fueled and assembled
  • Output of 25 MWe electrical
  • Up to 600ºC process heat for petro chemical and other industrial uses
  • 5- to 10-year life with walkaway inherent safety
  • Target less than 30 days for onsite installation
  • Autonomous load management capability
  • Proliferation resistance through encapsulation of fuel
  • Minimal moving parts

Challenges Ahead for a New Design

Westinghouse told Power Magazine that it faces several key challenges. First among them is getting enough HALEU fuel. The Department of Energy is supporting multiple efforts to address that issue including a contract to produce it by Centrus Corp by 2020 and deployment of a HALEU-based TRISO-X fuel fabrication pilot line at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Other issues which are faced by all SMR developers include the question of how many deals are needed to be inked in their order books to get investors to provide the funds for factory production facilities.

Because the design is unique, Power Magazine noted that Westinghouse will have to go through the long and expensive safety evaluation process at the NRC. The firm told Power Magazine it faces “first of a kind” challenges in licensing, instrumentation, remote reactor monitoring, and logistics.

“These challenges require careful risk management and planning, but they are not considered showstoppers and their management is part of the Westinghouse eVinci reactor development program.”

December Construction start for Chinese 125 MWe SMR

(WNN) China’s Ministry of Environment is proceeding to build an ACP100 small modular reactor (SMR) at Changjiang, Hainan, with construction to begin by the end of this year.

acp100

According to Chinese publication Nuclear World, construction is expected to take 65 month with the 125 MWe unit expected to start up by May 2025.

According to data about the ACP100 in the IAEA “SMR Book,” The ACP100 is a multipurpose power reactor designed for electricity production, heating, steam production or seawater desalination and is suitable for remote areas that have limited energy options or industrial infrastructure.”

The design, which has 57 fuel assemblies and integral steam generators, (see table right) incorporates passive safety features and will be installed underground.

A two-unit ACP100 plant will be located on the northwest side of the existing Changjiang nuclear power plant, according to the 22 March announcement. The site is already home to two operating CNP600 PWRs, with two Hualong One units also planned for construction at that site.

Small Modular Reactors Have Big Potential Market in UK,
Says Government-Funded Report

(NucNet): Micro nuclear reactors (MNRs) are a feasible option for the UK and have a potential market in the hundreds by 2030, a new government-funded report has concluded.

The report, produced by Nuvia, WSP and Atomic Acquisitions, concludes that there is great potential for development of MNRs between 2030 and 2035.

It says MNRs, typically under 30 MW, could bring significant economic benefits to the UK but must be “decisively supported” because they will only proceed with clear support and facilitation of political, regulatory and financial factors.

The study, Market and Technical Assessment of Micro Nuclear Reactors, says;

“Due to their size and unique characteristics, there are several potential market opportunities for MNRs. A potential global accessible market of up to 2,850 megawatts has been estimated by around 2030,” the report says.

“A potential MNR industry could enable the UK to grow indigenous civil nuclear reactor manufacturers gaining intellectual capital at low entry cost. At present this core part of the civil nuclear supply chain is not provided in the UK.”

In its conclusions the report says key advantages of micro reactors include simplicity of design, including safety systems; potential ease of construction through factory construction; lower overnight cost of each unit resulting in ease of financing; and the possibility of placing reactors in remote locations.

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Bipartisan Bill In Senate Would Boost US Nuclear Industry

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A major step forward in congressional support for the next generation of nuclear reactor technology took place this past week with the introduction in the Senate of the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA),

It is seen by an across the board coalition of nine nuclear industry organizations as an important step in creating a comprehensive blueprint to bring these designs to fruition.

The reintroduction of NELA came during Nuclear Innovation Week, a joint collaboration of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, Nuclear Energy Institute, American Nuclear Society, Electric Power Research Institute, and Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, among others. These groups are focused on both industry and policy activities necessary to make recent innovations in nuclear reactor and fuel design a reality.

nuclear advocates

The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, or “NELA” as it is known, aims to “spur development of demonstration projects at the Department of Energy, which could become an important source of carbon-free electricity generation.” (Full Text) (Fact Sheet) (Section by Section Summary in Plain English)

NELA was reintroduced in the Senate with a renewed push to make it into law. It has broad support from the nuclear community as well as from climate advocates and industry leaders. A key voice is Bill Gates who tweeted “I can’t overstate how important this is.”

The Seattle-based online newsletter Geekwire has more details on Gates’ enthusiastic endorsement of the legislation and its implications for his nuclear start-up TerraPower.

Key Provisions of NELA

To compete with state-owned or state-sponsored developers in “rival nations” – namely Russia and China – the bill encourages significant collaboration between the federal government, national laboratories, and private industry. The act directs the DOE to establish specific goals and ultimately demonstrate advanced reactors with the private sector.

The bill seeks to “define and establish” a domestic market for advanced nuclear reactors by extending term limits for federal power purchase agreements (PPAs) from the current 10 years to 40 years.

The bill requires the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to develop a 10-year plan to support advanced nuclear R&D goals. Plans are not funding and success will depend on annual appropriations over the next decade. Maybe one of the elements of the plan would be creation of a fixed fund so that DOE doesn’t wind up with its usual collection of white elephants stranded by a lack of resources.

The bill calls for plans to boost the development of fast reactors. The technology also authorizes plutonium to be used and recycled several times. It calls for further development and eventual production of high assay low enriched fuel (HALEU).

To help advance US-developed fast reactor technology, the bill directs the DOE to construct a fast reactor research facility. DOE has begin work to launch the Versatile Test Reactor project. NELA, if passed, can make the project become a reality.

NucNet reports that just a few fast reactor concepts have been demonstrated and only two such units are in full commercial operation. In late 2016 Russia began commercial operation of the Beloyarsk-4 BN-800 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor and also operates the Beloyarsk-3 BN-600 fast neutron unit, which began commercial operation in 1981, at the same site. Efforts by China, India, and Japan to develop commercial fast reactors have remained in the R&D stage.

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The law firm Logan and Lovells, which publishes commentary on new nuclear matters on its blog, wrote this week that there were advances on the regulatory front as well during Nuclear Innovation Week.

The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an NRC committee focused on reactor safety issues, penned a letter to the Chairman of the NRC recommending the final version of DG-1353, guidance on technology-inclusive, performance-based, risk-informed regulatory reviews for non-light water advanced reactors.

The ACRS found that with some modifications to the guidance, DG-1353, along with accompanying NEI industry guidance, NEI 18-04, that advanced reactor entrepreneurs could now develop a licensing basis and the other contents of NRC license applications.

In its blog post Hogan and Lovells note that industry-led pilot projects as part of the Licensing Modernization Project (LMP) have served as mechanisms to test the ability of this guidance to inform development of NRC submittals. The objective of LMP is to develop technology-based, risk-informed, and performance-based regulatory guidance for licensing non-LWRs for the NRC’s consideration and possible endorsement.

List of NELA Co-sponsors

Senators sponsoring the legislation include: Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; James Risch, R-Idaho; Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; Cory Gardner, R-Colorado; Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois; Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

NEI’s Korsnick Calls For Financial Support for US Industry
Exports to Meet Competition from Russia and China

(NucNet): The US International Development Finance Corporation must be allowed to support nuclear energy projects as the country fights to catch up and stay competitive in the sector, Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick said in her state of the industry address this week.

Korsnick said the US needs significant investment and bold policy to maintain its position as a world leader in nuclear safety, technology, and operations.

The International Development Finance Corporation, scheduled to begin operation by the end of the year, will be an executive agency of the federal government responsible for providing foreign aid through the financing of private development projects. Its creation was signed into law by president Donald Trump in October 2018.

Korsnick noted that nearly two out of every three reactors being built around the world are built by China or Russia.

“They are making massive investments, expanding their domestic fleet, and developing new technologies. Their efforts to promote nuclear power internationally are core parts of their foreign policy – including 100-year relationships with some nations – and America is falling behind.”

She also said export financing is a critical priority and without a fully functioning Export-Import Bank, US nuclear suppliers cannot compete in a global market on international tenders. She called on the Senate to confirm a quorum on the bank’s board and for Congress to reauthorize the bank itself.

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Small Nations Have Big Plans for Nuclear Energy

  • Estonia inks MOU with Moltex for work on a Molten Salt Reactor
  • Romania inks MOU with NuScale for work on LWR type SMR
  • Ukraine plans consortium for work on Holtec SMR
  • Czech PM details plans to push for revised tender on new reactors
  • South Africa take steps to reopen effort to secure nuclear reactors

Five small nations are moving ahead with plans to develop their own nuclear power stations. Two of the efforts involve U.S. developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) Here is a round up of recent news items.

Estonia to Study Siting of Moltex Advanced Reactor

(WNN) Fermi Energia of Estonia has selected Moltex Energy as its preferred technology for its plans to establish carbon-free energy production in the Baltic region. Moltex Energy said this week that the two companies had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which states their intention to work together, including a feasibility study for the siting of a Moltex advanced reactor and the development of a suitable licensing regime.

moltex

Conceptual Design of Moltex MSR

In its statement, Moltex Energy noted that Estonia generates the majority of its power from oil shale, but that this fossil fuel capacity will have been mostly retired by 2030.

Wind power in the Baltic provides some potential, but the country needs an alternative, reliable power source if it is to remain self-sufficient in energy, it said.

Estonia’s neighbors Latvia, Lithuania and Finland are all net importers of electricity. The intent of the MOU is to create a source of clean and safe power generation in Estonia which would represent an improvement in energy security for the whole region.

Simon Newton, business development director at Moltex, said: “Estonia is a vibrant, entrepreneurial and forward-looking economy and is the perfect place to benefit from the Moltex Stable Salt Reactor technology.” (video)

Kalev Kallemets, CEO of Fermi Energia, said:
“Our ambition is to deploy the first fourth generation small modular reactor in the EU, here in Estonia, by the early 2030s. We are delighted to be working closely with Moltex Energy on this vital project. It is important for Estonia to have its own source of clean, cheap energy and Moltex’s innovative technology has huge potential for us.”

UK-based Moltex Energy announced in July last year that it will build a demonstration SSR-W (Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner) at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site in Canada under an agreement signed with the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation and NB Power. The firm is also pursuing market opportunities in the UK.

Moltex Energy’s SSR is a conceptual UK reactor design with no pumps (only small impellers in the secondary salt bath) and relies on convection from static vertical fuel tubes in the core to convey heat to the steam generators.

The fuel assemblies are arranged at the center of a tank half filled with the coolant salt which transfers heat away from the fuel assemblies to the peripheral steam generators, essentially by convection. Core temperature is 500-600°C, at atmospheric pressure.

How the Moltex Reactor Works

fuel_tube

Conceptual Design of Moltex Fuel Assembly

The fuel is in the salt and is held in vented tubes. The tubes are bundled into fuel assemblies similar to those in a conventional PWR. These are held in the support structure which forms the reactor modules. (Technical papers)(PDF files)

The tank is filled with a safe molten salt coolant, which is not pressurized like gas or water coolants in today’s power reactors and not violently reactive with air and water like sodium in today’s Fast Breeder reactors.

A second similar coolant salt system takes heat from the primary coolant salt to a patented GridReserve energy storage system.

GridReserve is a collection of molten salt storage tanks that stores gigawatt scale thermal energy when it’s not needed for electricity production. When demand goes up, say when renewables are off, the plant can take heat from the reactor and storage tanks to produce electricity. This is just like in a Concentrated Solar Power plant and uses the same solar salt, turning a 1GW reactor into a 3GW peaking plant.

grid reserve

Energy Flows in a Moltex GridReserve System

The GridReserve system appears to be a form of “load following,” but not from the reactor itself, but from the stored heat in the secondary salt loop. This approach removes the burden of managing the reactor for this purpose.

Refuelling is simple: Fuel assemblies are simply moved sideways out of the core and replaced with fresh fuel assemblies. This results in a near on-line refuelling process.

The entire construction is simple, with no high pressure systems, few moving parts, and no Pressure Vessel needing specialist foundries. The reactor is continuously cooled by natural air flow, giving complete security against overheating in an accident situation. See this video for a “fly through” of the design.

The firm claims on its website that multiple versions of Stable Salt Reactors are possible. The first being developed now is a “waste burner.” This uses fuel produced by a new, low cost and very simple process from spent conventional reactor fuel.

Reduction in the radioactive life of the majority of that spent fuel from hundreds of thousands of years to just a few hundred years will effectively clean up a large part of the hazardous residue of the first nuclear era.

A second generation Stable Salt Reactors design will be able to breed new nuclear fuel from depleted uranium and thorium. The firm also proposes to develop a graphite moderated option to use conventional enriched uranium as fuel.

Romania to Explore Use of a NuScale SMR

(WNN) An agreement was inked this week between US small modular reactor (SMR) developer NuScale Power and Romanian energy company Societata Nationala Nuclearelectrica SA (SNN SA) to explore the use of SMRs in Romania.

The two companies have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) covering the exchange of business and technical information on NuScale’s nuclear technology, with the goal of evaluating the development, licensing and construction of a NuScale SMR for a “potential similar long-term solution” in Romania.

John Hopkins, NuScale Power chairman and CEO, said the company was looking forward to collaborating with SNN SA “to determine what role NuScale’s technology can play in Romania’s energy future.”

SNN SA, also referred to as Nuclearelectrica, operates two Canadian-supplied CANDU units at Cernavoda that currently generate up to 20% of Romania’s electricity. The reactors use natural uranium and heavy water to achieve criticality. No enriched fuel is needed to run the reactors.

SSN SA’s CE0 said, “As the only nuclear power provider in Romania, we see great potential in SMRs because of the clean, safe, and affordable power they provide.”

Romania has been in negotiations with China since 2016 for development of two new CANDU type nuclear reactors. Some work that has already taken place on the CANDU Units 3 & 4 would be a springboard for completion by CGN.

What NuScale Would Bring to Romania

NuScale’s SMR technology features the self-contained NuScale Power Module, with an output of 200 MWt or 60 MWe each for a total in a 12-unit installation of 720 MWe. Based on pressurized water reactor technology (PWR) , the scalable design can be used in power plants of up to 12 individual modules.

The technology is currently undergoing design certification review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is planning the development of a 12-module plant at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory, with deployment expected in the mid-2020s.

NuScale has released information on the cost-competitive nature of its SMR. The firm said on its web site that the estimated construction cost for the first NuScale 684 MWe (net) plant is about $3 billion which works out, in round numbers, to $4400/Kw. The firm also said that total construction time, to mechanical completion, but not commissioning, would be 54 months. In July 2018 the firm released information saying that it was working on further cost savings with a target cost of $4200/Kw.

By comparison, CGN’s cost estimate for completion of the partially built twin CANDUs, at 720 MWe each, would come in at $5070/Kw.

NuScale has also signed MOUs to explore the deployment of its SMR technology in Canada and Jordan. All of these agreements are highly conceptual and don’t involve, at this stage, any significant financial commitments.

History of New CANDUs for Cernavoda

According to the World Nuclear Association in September 2014 China General Nuclear (CGN) submitted an offer to build the two units, and was accepted as a qualified investor. In October SNN designated CGN as the ‘selected investor’ for the project and a letter of intent to proceed was signed by all parties. In November 2015 the two companies signed a further agreement for the development, construction, operation, and decommissioning of Cernavoda 3&4.

CGN is reported to hold a 51% equity position in the project. The state nuclear power corporation Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN) said the cost is €7.2 billion/$7.7 billion for two 720 MW units.

In January 2016 the government concluded talks with CGN on the major areas of support and commitment associated with the project, including electricity market reform, tariff mechanisms, electricity sales, state guarantees, financial incentive policies, and continuity of those policies.

Construction is expected to resume at both sites. Work had begun on Unit 3 as part of larger five reactor expansion project, but only Unit 2 was completed in 2001. Preliminary work on units 3 & 4 was started thereafter and then stopped. World Nucleasr News did not update its 2018 report to indicate that restart of work on Units 3 & 4 has taken place. Completion dates are said to be in the early 2020s.

The new reactors, Units 3 & 4, will be updated versions of the Candu 6, but not the full EC6 version, since the concrete structures are already built. Unit 3 is reported to be 53% complete and Unit 4 30%. These updated numbers indicate some continuing level of construction activity since in 2017 WNN reported completion figures of 15% and 14%. The units will have an operating lifetime of 30 years with the possibility of a 25-year extension. Some 1000 tonnes of heavy water has been produced and is in storage.

Holtec’s SMR-160 Attracts Attention in Ukraine

(WNN & wires) Holtec International has made progress with its work on an SMR-160 system through agreements with Energoatom and Exelon Generation announced during the winter meeting of the Holtec Advisory Council for SMR-160, held in February 2019 in Jupiter, Florida.

Holtec is a private firm and keeps details of its development efforts closely held. So, the news about the meeting of its advisory committee represents a rare look at progress on the 160 MW SMR.

The SMR-160 reactor is under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and is in Phase 1 – Pre-Licensing Reviews -of the three-phase evaluation cycle. The SMR field in Canada has become highly competitive with nine other reactor vendors also in process for similar reviews. Two SMR developers have completed the Phase 1 process.

State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, the nuclear regulatory authority in Ukraine, is expected to coordinate its regulatory assessment of SMR-160 under a collaborative arrangement with its Canadian counterpart.

Energoatom President Yury Nedashkovsky announced plans to establish a consortium with Holtec and Ukraine’s national nuclear consultant, State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC-NRS). It will explore the environmental and technical feasibility of qualifying a ‘generic’ SMR-160 system that can be built and operated at any candidate site in the country.

A formal announcement of the adoption of the terms of engagement for the consortium is expected later this year.

At the same meeting, Holtec signed a memorandum of understanding with Exelon Generation, adding Exelon to the SMR-160 team, which currently includes SNC-Lavalin and Mitsubishi Electric.

Chris Mudrick, Exelon Generation senior vice president, Northeast Operations, said in the Holtec statement:

“As the largest nuclear operator in the United States, Exelon Generation is pleased to partner with Holtec to develop an operating model for the SMR-160. This project is a great example of how innovation and new technologies are bringing our industry together and driving the future of nuclear power.”

Under the terms of the MoU, Exelon Generation plans to support SMR-160’s market acceptance, develop a generic deployment schedule and staffing plan, and assist to improve its operability and maintainability features.

As SMR-160s are built around the globe, Exelon Generation could provide reactor operating services to customers that lack an established nuclear industrial infrastructure. This approach may facilitate entry in to markets in small countries that otherwise might not be ready to adopt SMRs as part of their energy mix.

Holtec describes the SMR-160 as a “passive, intrinsically safe, secure and economical” small modular reactor that has the flexibility to be used in remote locations, in areas with limited water supplies or land, and in unique industrial applications where traditional larger reactors are not practical.

Advisory Committee Member Profiles

The meeting was led by the incoming advisory committee chairman, Michael Rencheck, CEO of Bruce Power, Canada, and attended by invited industry experts from several leading organizations, including Bruce Power, Energoatom, Entergy, Exelon Generation, Southern, Talen Energy, NEI, SNC-Lavalin, Mitsubishi Electric, and several major suppliers. (Membership list and bios)

Czech PM Calls for Nuclear Expansion with State Controls

Reuters reports that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has outlined the government’s plan to build a number of nuclear reactors, saying the state should control construction so it can halt the expansion should power prices fail to support the project. His statement clearly indicates the government still isn’t ready to do things –

  • Establish a guarantee and basis for a rate floor for pricing the electricity from the reactors in order to attract investors
  • Buy out the minority institutional investors in CEZ, the state owned electric utility, to cut off the prospect of lawsuits that might interfere with the project.

Even so the government expects to sign a contract with majority state-owned CEZ to build one or more new reactors at Dukovany, with a tender towards the end of 2020 and with a supplier chosen by 2024.

Babis said the government would not provide CEZ an unlimited state guarantee and that the utility would cover any extra costs not generated by the state regulators.

“The basic aim of the state should be to take control of construction of new nuclear capacity,” Babis told Reuters. “The state would get such control by signing a contract with CEZ on construction.”

The government has been considering how to fund a multi-billion-dollar expansion of CEZ’s nuclear power plants, before some units reach the end of their lifetime. Efforts to complete a previous tender for up to five new reactors, including several at Temelin, worth up to $25 billion, collapsed in 2014 when the government informed bidders it would not offer rate guarantees for electricity sold by the nuclear power stations.

South Africa Its Puts Toe Back in Nuclear Waters

(WNN) South Africa must consider nuclear as a clean energy source that can be part of its electricity generation mix, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said in a speech at a business awards ceremony.

His statement comes as the South African government struggles to find a way to eliminate brown outs and insure reliable electrical power for its heavy industry and affordable rates for a struggling economy. Poverty is widespread in South Africa which also has entrenched high unemployment.

The country also needs to find a way to make procurement of nuclear energy credible. The previous administration, led by President Jacob Zuma, inked a secret deal with Russia for eight 1200 MW VVER PWR type reactors with a price tag of just over $43 billion.

Not only could South Africa not afford the project, even with 50% financing from Rosatom, but the deal, when reported in the news media, generated a political firestorm. Charges of nepotism and corruption were also made as Zuma hired relatives to run key parts of the project.

The Energy and Finance ministries were caught by surprise by the news of the Russian deal. Eskom, the state owned electric utility, said it didn’t have the funds to cover South Africa’s 50% cost share.

A public outcry over the lack of transparency in Zuma’s dealings with Rosatom led to a cancellation of the project coincident with end of his term in office.

The new administration hasn’t yet updated its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to expand that role of nuclear energy to meet the nation’s need for electricity, but recent comments by Radebe seem to indicate he’s heading in that direction.

“As a developing economy, plagued by high poverty and unemployment levels, the issue of reliable and affordable energy is critical,” Radebe said.

“We have to consider nuclear, and despite its high capital costs, we have not lost sight of the fact that this is a clean energy source that can contribute optimally for electricity generation,” the minister said.

Sustainable energy planning requires a “holistic approach” to planning for future energy needs, ensuring environmental and climate change issues, together with social development and economic growth, are all considered in a balanced manner, he said.

“We have come to realize that achieving these objectives simultaneously is no easy task as it entails juggling competing and often conflicting objectives. During the energy planning process, we therefore cannot discriminate against or favor any particular energy carriers,” he said.

The country cannot not ignore its abundant coal reserves, and the “relatively low” price of coal, but this is “counter-balanced” by coal’s high carbon content and internalized through policy options including emissions reduction targets and the introduction of carbon taxes.

The Portfolio Committee on Energy, which provides parliamentary oversight for the work of South Africa’s energy department, in November said the IRP should make it explicit that both coal and nuclear will remain important elements of the country’s energy mix.

~ Other Nuclear News ~

Testing Complete for China’s Hualong One Fuel

(WNN) Long-term irradiation testing of China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC) CF3 pressurized water reactor (PWR) fuel has been completed.

Four sets of CF3 fuel assemblies, which are designed for use in the Hualong One reactor, were loaded into Qinshan II unit 2 – a Chinese-designed CNP-600 PWR – in July 2014.

The assemblies have undergone poolside inspections during each fuelling cycle, CNNC said. Inspection results show that the performance of the design has met internationally accepted standards.

According to World Nuclear Association information, CF3 fuel assemblies are being manufactured at CNNC’s main PWR fuel fabrication plant at Yibin in Sichuan province, using fuel pellets from Kazakhstan’s Ulba Metallurgical Plant.

Hualong One reactors are currently under construction at Fuqing and Fangchenggang. Fuqing 5 and 6 are expected to start up in 2019 and 2020, as are Fangchenggang 3 and 4. The Hualong One promoted on the international market is called the HPR1000, two of which are under construction at Karachi in Pakistan.

The significance of the successful tests is that China is now on the road to being self-sufficient for fuel for its new Hualong One reactors which are intended for export. Deals have been set in motion in the UK, Argentina and two units are nearing completion in Pakistan.

Finland’s Fennovoima, Its Next Nuclear Reactor,
a Russian Project, Likely to be Delayed Beyond 2024

Reuters reports that a Finnish-Russian consortium’s plan to build a nuclear reactor in western Finland by 2024 is likely to be delayed, perhaps as long as four years, as more time is needed to secure licenses, its chairman said.

“Normally when a plane departs late it arrives late. 2024 would be extremely ambitious if not unrealistic,” the consortium’s chairman, Esa Harmala, told Reuters.

Finland’s nuclear regulator STUK told Reuters it would make a decision on a license to start construction of the reactor, named Hanhikivi 1, in 2020, depending on getting required documents from its owners, including Rosatom.

The Fennovoima consortium said in 2017 it would submit the documents in 2018. Since then it said it would get a permit in 2019, a year later than originally planned. STUK said last that the documents would be submitted by July 2019.

That means the consortium may not get STUK approval until 2020 and would struggle to meet its target to start the plant in 2024.

The Fennovoima consortium includes Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom, whose involvement has raised concerns in Finland about Russia’s influence in the country. A spokesman for Rosatom declined to comment on the delay in response to an inquiry from Reuters saying only it is still working on a 2024 startup date.

The Finnish parliament approved the project to build the 1.2 gigawatt (GW) reactor, which is expected to cost 6.5 billion-7 billion euros ($7.5 billion-$8 billion), to boost domestic energy production.

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Brazil Seeks Private Investment from US on SMRs

  • investors2In a visit to the US this week, a key energy official from Brazil said his country is interested in “partnering” with the US investors for development of small modular reactors (SMRs).
  • In a related development, the same official said the county is working on a proposal to open up uranium mining, and oil and gas exploration, in Brazil to private investment.
  • Separately, efforts by the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) to ink a deal to build two nuclear reactors in Argentina have stalled out over differences related to financing the projects.
  • Bulgaria has announced a solicitation for investors for the troubled Belene nuclear project while at the same time announcing that Rosatom will be the EPC if financing for it is found.
  • India announced it is willing to reopen talks with Westinghouse for the construction of six 1150 MW AP1000 units there, but as long as the country’s supplier liability law remains in force, it may be just more talk.

Brazil Seeks Investors in Nuclear Energy Projects

While having no development effort of its own for small nuclear reactors (SMRs), Brazil this week reached out to the US for collaboration partnerships. Without providing details, a key energy official, Bento Albuquerque, said this week that a bilateral forum will be set up to discuss energy investment opportunities in nuclear energy, uranium mining, and oil & gas exploration. It’s first meeting is scheduled for April. The minister met with US Energy Secretary Rick Perry in Houston, TX, this week.

Brazil currently has two nuclear reactors and an ongoing effort to construct a third unit, Angra III, a 1400 MW PWR. According to the World Nuclear Association, in November 2018 it was reported that Eletronuclear was negotiating with CNNC and State Power Investment Corp (SPIC), KEPCO, Rosatom, and a consortium comprising EDF with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to complete the plant.

Recent cost estimates to complete the plant have not been verified by a complete engineering analysis. Part of the reason for this is that construction of the plant, which began nearly a decade ago, has been started and stopped several times by different EPC firms.

Plans for two more nuclear power stations, composed of four 1000MW+ PWR type units each, have been stalled due to a lack of financing. Brazil may be now rethinking its plans for full size nuclear power plants in favor of more affordable SMRs.

Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, a former navy officer who ran the country’s nuclear program for that service, told the Reuters wire service on 15 March 2019 that Brazil is proposing to open up its state owned nuclear sector to private investment to attract developers of SMRs.

No details were provided as to specific opportunities, sites, or financial arrangements. Brazil may seek financial assistance from the US via the Export-Import Bank if Congress lifts the current limit of $10 million on loans.

Other energy related discussions on Washington covered opening up oil and gas exploration in the coastal waters of Brazil.

All of these opportunities need to be seen in light of the chaotic history of Brazil’s energy sector.

Brazil Nuclear CEO Arrest on Bribery Charges

In August 2015 Federal police in Brazil arrested Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, CEO of Elecrtrobas Termonuclear, which is building the country’s third nuclear reactor, Angra III, on charges he took bribes from construction firms involved in the project. The investigation into the bribes got its start in an unrelated investigation into a massive money laundering scheme in the oil & gas sector.

Standard & Poors said the arrest of the nuclear chief was another “political uncertainty” that caused the rating agency to change Brazil’s credit outlook to negative. US investors sued Electrobas for failing to disclose the arrest of the company’s CEO in April. Bond yields for the firm, reflecting the higher risks associated with the company’s CEO being caught up in a bribery case, rose to 8% by late July 2015.

Elecrobas denied any wrong doing and put the CEO on a leave of absence. He was later arrested and spent two years in jail being released in 2017.

Plans for Future Expansion of Nuclear Energy in Brazil

A review of nuclear energy plans for full size reactors in Brazil by the World Nuclear Association indicates that Brazil has proposed building two new nuclear plants in the northeast and two more near Angra in the southeast. Two sites have been named on a provisional basis. Both would involve three-to-four full size units, most likely PWRs, in the range of 1000 MWe each.

The sites involved include one in the northeast on a large dam on the Sao Francisco River between Pernambuco and Bahia states for up to 6600 MWe, and one in the north of Minas Gerais state in the southeast of the country, inland from Angra, for 4000-6000 MWe.

The cost of six-to-eight units at this size, using an overnight estimate of $4500/KW, comes to $4.5 billion per unit or a total cost of $27 billion to $36 billion most likely spread out over a period of up to two decades. Even so, the total cost is likely out of Brazil’s reach without international financing.

Rosatom’s ‘build-own-operate’ plan, which it is using in Turkey, contemplates cashing out at the 15th year of operation to recover the up front financing, It is unclear whether any other vendor, including China, would offer such favorable terms.

Other vendors who have expressed an interest include China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) which would offer a 1000 MW Hualong One, Westinghouse which would offer ther AP1000, and Areva-Mitsubishi offering the Atmea-1. Atomstroyexport has said it would offer the VVER-1000.

Argentina’s Nuclear Deals with China in Question

The NBN market research agency reports that a deal is on the skids for Argentina and China to close on t6erms to build Atucha III–fourth nuclear power plant in Argentina. The news wire said that the deal was at risk of becoming “a pipe dream.”

The two states had agreed that CNNC and Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA would start construction of a 700MWe CANDU-6 heavy water reactor in 2018, and start construction of a million-kilowatt Hualong One PWR in 2020.

However, NBN now reports that, according to an insider from China National Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC), the terms contract of this project will not be nailed down because Argentina has not accepted China’s offer.

The original plan estimated that the total investment of this project would be USD$14 billion, of which USD$12.5 billion would be financed by China. It would also be supported with low-interest loans, repayment period of 20 years plus an eight-year grace period with an annual interest rate of 4.5%. Earlier estimates, reported by Reuters, put the cost of the project at USD$8 billion.

Argentina reportedly asked for more favorable terms which CNNC said it would not agree to for the project. With the Candu type unit in question, the Hualong One may also be at risk. An effort to restart the stalled negotiations in January 2019 did not move the needle. All parties involved have since declined to make statements to the news media.

Argentina and China had planned to announce a done deal last November when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the country during a G20 summit in Buenos Aires. China remains a key trading partner with Argentina. (Reuters Factbox).

Bulgaria Announces Start
of Investor Selection For Belene

(NucNet) Bulgarian state energy company NEK announced this week the start of an investor selection procedure for the two-unit Belene nuclear power station project.

NEK said it is looking for an investor for the construction of Belene with options to take a minority stake in a future project company or purchase electricity to be generated by the facility.

The purpose of the call for interest is to gather information about potential candidates. Investor must submit expressions of interest in the next 90 days. The government said it would make a decision within 12 months of receiving the filings.

NEK said Bulgaria will participate in the project company by contributing assets including the licensed site, nuclear island equipment, permits and documentation. Bulgaria paid Rosatom over $600M for these assets after it halted construction in 2012.

According to the call for interest, the station must be operational within 10 years from the signing of an investors’ agreement and its cost must not exceed €10 billion for both units.

NEK reiterated Bulgaria’s position that Belene must be built on a market basis, without state guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts. These harsh conditions may put a significant damper on investor interest.

In 2008, Bulgaria ordered two Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor units for Belene, but the project was cancelled in 2012 because of financial and political considerations.

In June 2018, the government formally revived the project following a vote in parliament.

France’s Framatome, China’s CNNC, Russia’s Rosatom and US-based General Electric have already formally expressed an interest in investing or providing equipment and services for Belene. Talks have also been held with South Korea’s Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power.

Bulgarian officials have said that if the country goes ahead with the Belene project, Russia’s Atomstroyexport will be the main contractor.

US And India Revive Talks to Build Six Nuclear Plants

(NucNet) The US and India have signed an agreement confirming their commitment to cooperate on the civilian use of nuclear energy including a proposed construction of six US-supplied nuclear power plants according to a statement by the US Department of State.

The statement issued on 13 March 2019 said that India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and US undersecretary of state Andrea Thompson signed the agreement in Washington this week, but gave no further details about the nuclear power plant project.

Former US president Barack Obama and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced in 2016 that engineering and design work would begin for Westinghouse to build six AP1000s in India in a deal that was expected to be signed by June 2017. The agreement was the result of a decade of diplomatic efforts as part of a US-India civil nuclear agreement signed in 2008. The deal for US entry into India’s commercial nuclear energy market never happened.

The main stumbling block is India’s supplier liability law. As long as it remains on the book, the project will not move ahead. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) profile of India’s civilian nuclear program notes that GE Hitachi (GEH) said February 2014 to NPCIL that it had hoped to commence construction of the first 1594 MWe reactor early in 2015.

However, with no change to the 2010 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, GEH in September 2015 said it would not proceed with any investment in India until the country’s liability regime was brought into line with the rest of the world. With the GEH left the market. India later said that it wouldn’t have accepted the ESBWR design, which passed an NRC design and safety evaluation, because there was “no reference plant” to build confidence in the ability of GEH to deliver units for India on time and within budget.

India has shown little interest in changing the supplier liability law, due in part to the strong political clout of its coal interests, and has gone ahead with plans to build 10 700 MW PHWRs based on a domestic design and supply chain which favors heavy industry employment.

India has also inked multiple deals with Rostom having successfully commissioned two 1000 MW units at Kudanlulam, broken ground for two more, and has plans in the works for a third set at that site in Tamil Nadu on India’s southern most coastal location.

Six plants at Andhra Pradesh were at one time slated to be GEH ESBWRs, but that was changed to Westinghouse AP1000s. The Westinghouse plants were originally planned to be in Gujarat, PM Modi’s home turf, but anti-nuclear protests there prompted to move to the site on India’s east coast when GEH pulled out.

Westinghouse emerged from bankruptcy in March 2018 with the purchase of some of its nuclear assets by the Brookfield private equity fund. Westinghouse got into financial trouble due to the collapse of the V C Summer nuclear project in South Carolina primarily due to mismanagement by Westinghouse as both the vendor and as the EPC. As a result the firm said that for any future efforts, it would act solely as a vendor and not also take on the EPC role.

Since then it has not booked any new projects. One piece of good news is that by the end of 2018 all four AP1000s built by Westinghouse in China had entered revenue service.

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