Stanford’s Questionable Study on Spent Nuclear Fuel for SMRs

questionA Stanford University and University of British Columbia study into the waste streams from three proposed small modular reactor (SMR) designs predicts complex technical problems and high costs that will occur in the management of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste from both light water and advanced SMR designs

The Stanford-led research, published this week by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), finds “small modular reactors will exacerbate challenges of highly radioactive nuclear waste.”

“The takeaway message for the industry and investors is that the back end of the fuel cycle may include hidden costs that must be addressed,” says study co-author and UBC professor Allison Macfarlane, who is also a former NRC Commissioner (2012-2014).

There are significant issues regarding the findings of the report. This blog post briefly describes the main findings of the NAS published report and then poses some questions about the caveats and limitations of the study that will add some much needed perspective to the press statement.

According to a press statement from Stanford University, released ahead of the NAS report, the study has following conclusion.

“Our results show that most small modular reactor designs will actually increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal, by factors of 2 to 30 for the reactors in our case study,” said study lead author Lindsay Krall, a former MacArthur Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). “These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”

Krall and her team say that for this study, they analyzed the nuclear waste streams from three types of small modular reactors being developed by Toshiba, NuScale, and Terrestrial Energy. Each company uses a different design. Results from case studies were corroborated by theoretical calculations and a broader design survey. This three-pronged approach enabled the authors to draw disturbing conclusions but these findings come along with a very big caveat.

“The analysis was difficult, because none of these reactors are in operation yet,” said study co-author Rodney Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and co-director of CISAC. “Also, the designs of some of the reactors are proprietary, adding additional hurdles to the research.”

The Stanford study focuses on neutron bombardment of structural materials that make up the reactor including its steel and concrete.

Energy is produced in a nuclear reactor when a neutron splits a uranium atom in the reactor core, generating additional neutrons that go on to split other uranium atoms, creating a chain reaction. Some neutrons escape from the core. This is a problem called neutron leakage, These materials become radioactive when “activated” by neutrons lost from the core.

Too Many Neutrons

The new study found that, because of their smaller size, small modular reactors will experience more neutron leakage than conventional reactors. This increased leakage affects the amount and composition of their waste streams.

“The more neutrons that are leaked, the greater the amount of radioactivity created by the activation process of neutrons,” Ewing said. “We found that small modular reactors will generate at least nine times more neutron-activated steel than conventional power plants. These radioactive materials have to be carefully managed prior to disposal, which will be expensive.”

The study also asserted that the spent nuclear fuel from small modular reactors will be discharged in greater volumes per unit energy extracted and can be far more complex than the spent fuel discharged from existing power plants.

“Some small modular reactor designs call for chemically exotic fuels and coolants that can produce difficult-to-manage wastes for disposal,” said co-author Allison Macfarlane, professor and director of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. “Those exotic fuels and coolants may require costly chemical treatment prior to disposal.”

“The takeaway message for the industry and investors is that the back end of the fuel cycle may include hidden costs that must be addressed,” Macfarlane said. “It’s in the best interest of the reactor designer and the regulator to understand the waste implications of these reactors.”

The study also concludes that SMRs “are inferior to conventional reactors with respect to radioactive waste generation, management requirements, and disposal options.”

The research team estimated that after 10,000 years, the radiotoxicity of plutonium in spent fuels discharged from the three study modules would be at least 50 percent higher than the plutonium in conventional spent fuel per unit energy extracted.

Because of this high level of radiotoxicity, geologic repositories for small modular reactor wastes should be carefully chosen through a thorough siting process, the authors said.

“We shouldn’t be the ones doing this kind of study,” said Ewing. “The vendors, those who are proposing and receiving federal support to develop advanced reactors, should be concerned about the waste and conducting research that can be reviewed in the open literature.”

What’s Wrong with this Study?

To begin with the text of the Stanford press statement has a caveat the size of the Brooklyn Bridge.

“The analysis was difficult, because none of these reactors are in operation yet,” said study co-author Rodney Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and co-director of CISAC. “Also, the designs of some of the reactors are proprietary, adding additional hurdles to the research.”

This is a significant shortcoming of the report. The absence of quality assured test data is a compelling reason to question the report as a whole as well as its particular findings. Had the authors called for such testing, rather than leaping to conclusion in its absence, the report might have built a stronger case for its conclusion.

In short, without this kind of information, the report’s conclusions will be seen as resting on conjecture, and theory, and not engineering test results. It is plausible to predict the report will be strongly criticized on this point. In point of fact, the report’s press statement notes, “results from case studies were corroborated by theoretical calculations.” Simulation and modeling will only take you so far.

Also, the authors don’t include references to any findings about the spent fuel from SMRs that have emerged from the NRC’s licensing review of NuScale’s SMR nor any of the pre-licensing topical reports from other vendor applicants that can be released without compromising proprietary information. There are multiple light water and advanced reactors in pre-licensing talks with the agency so there is no shortage of data in the NRC’s ADAMS online library to review.

The research team had an obligation to discuss the report with the NRC prior to publication, especially due to the fact that Allison MacFarlane, a former NRC Commissioner, is one of the co-authors. Her expertise alone is insufficient for this purpose.

There is no reference to findings about spent fuel for SMRs undertaken by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) vendor design review (VDR) which included the NuScale SMR as well as 12 other SMR designs of which 9 are advanced designs that use HALEU fuels with enrichment levels of between 5-19% U235.

canadian-advanced-smrs-in-cnsc-vdr-v2

Also, since the report carries the imprint of the National Academy of Sciences, one would assume that peer review would have included experts on spent nuclear fuel at the NRC and outside the government who would have questioned some of the report’s findings. More than a decade ago the US government published a “Blue Ribbon Report” on spent nuclear fuel. At a minimum its findings should have been part of the baseline literature review of your study. A review of the cited references in the report indicates it was not accessed by the research team.

The Stanford study focuses on neutron bombardment of structural materials that make up the reactor including its steel and concrete. Typically, materials testing takes place in test reactors to address in exact engineering terms how much impact the neutrons in the reactor will have on materials. The study’s principals could have picked up the phone and called the scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory familiar with the work that has been done over decades at the Advanced Test Reactor to get some answers to their questions. Apparently, the research team did not do this as there is no citation for it in the full text of the report.

IAEA Addressed the Issue of Spent Fuel for SMRs in 2019

The research team also had an obligation to address the global aspects of SMRs as there are dozens of designs in development worldwide. The IAEA would have been a good place to start.

The IAEA said in 2019 that spent fuel from SMRs could be handled according to methods used for existing reactors. Here’s a section of their article along with the URL for the complete post

what are SMRs

“Countries with established nuclear power programs have been managing their spent fuel for decades. They have gained extensive experience and have proper infrastructure in place. For these countries, management of spent fuel arising from SMRs shouldn’t pose a challenge if they opt to deploy SMRs based on current technologies, said Christophe Xerri, Director of the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology at the IAEA.”

“Since this type of small modular reactor will be using the same fuel as conventional, large nuclear power plants, it’s spent fuel can be managed in the same way as that of large reactors,” Xerri said.”

Even for SMRs based on new technologies, such as high temperature gas cooled reactors, which will use fuel packed in graphite prismatic blocks or graphite pebbles, countries that have nuclear power plants will already have solutions in place for storing and managing spent fuel. “They can either use existing infrastructure or adjust it for the new radioactive waste streams,” Xerri said.”

wippThe report sails past obvious solutions which include reprocessing spent nuclear fuel or using salt formations like the one at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for a geologic repository.

Jim Conca, a Ph.D. nuclear scientist, wrote to me in an email about the Stanford study saying, “The salt in New Mexico that hosts WIPP could take all of this no problem, as the salt’s performance is independent of the waste form or level of activity, although bureaucratically we can only put TRU there even though WIPP was designed and built for everything.”

Readers should also know that when WIPP was first being designed in the late 1970s, it was intended to take not only spent nuclear fuel, but also high level military nuclear waste such as spent fuel from navy ships and submarines. Instead, the navy reprocessed its spent fuel at the Naval Reactors site in Idaho until the early 1990s.

Swift Response from SMR Developers

Although the Stanford report was released over the long US Memorial Day weekend, responses to it from the SMR developer community were swift and to the point.

Terrestrial Energy

(05/31/22) “Our IMSR Generation IV fission plant generates electric power at nearly 50 percent higher thermal efficiency than a conventional reactor, so clearly it produces less radioactive waste or activity per unit power.  Terrestrial Energy is developing a conversion process using ANSTO Synroc technology for a waste form that is far more geologically stable than that of current reactors. The Generation IV International Forum in part defines a successful Generation IV technology as one that creates less waste – our IMSR technology embodies that objective, which was set by international experts,” said Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy.

06/03/22: Terrestrial Energy responded further to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) article on used fuel from SMRs.  (Full Text of letter PDF file with extensive comments)

“Terrestrial Energy is deeply disappointed in the poor quality of this article and its numerous and significant factual errors. The article in several instances implies that any single shortfall of any small modular (SMR) system is universal to other SMR designs. As such, the article fails to comply with the Academy’s high standards. The article’s conclusion is the most egregious case in point:”

“Molten salt- and sodium-cooled SMRs will use highly corrosive and pyrophoric fuels and coolants that, following irradiation, will become highly radioactive.”  (italics added)

“Such a statement ignores well-established fact in the field: No reactor uses or proposes using pyrophoric fuels. While sodium reactors indeed have a pyrophoric coolant, the coolant does not become highly radioactive. However, the sentence clearly implies both molten salt and sodium cooled reactors have pyrophoric fuels and coolants, which is simply false.”

NuScale

(05/30/22) The firm lodged this objection. “We don’t agree with the conclusion that the NuScale design creates more used spent fuel per unit of energy compared to currently operating light water reactors,” says NuScale spokesperson Diane Hughes.

“The paper uses outdated design information for the energy capacity of the NuScale fuel design and wrong assumptions for the material used in the reactor reflector, and on burnup of the fuel.  With the correct inputs, NuScale’s design compares favorably with current large pressurized water reactors on spent fuel waste created per unit of energy. These inputs are publicly available to the paper’s authors and their omission undermines the credibility of the paper and its conclusions.”

(06/01/22: NuScale has written a letter to NAS about the paper. It disputes on technical grounds the assertion by the authors of the NAS study that SMRs produce more nuclear waste than conventional large scale PWRs. Read the full text here.   bit.ly/3MaX9PT

Third Way

(05/31/2) A spokesman for the DC think tank which studies energy issues, said this about the report, “It fails to recognize that because some advanced SMRs are more efficient than existing reactors they are expected to produce less waste overall not more. The study mixes different reactor designs and uses what appears to be old information. Any long-term waste solution, whether a centralized repository or recycling, can easily accommodate the waste, because nuclear plants, whether large or small, produce a small amount of high-level waste.”

It is entirely predictable that there will be more and considerable criticism of the report from developers of SMRs and the nuclear energy industry in general.

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Krall is now a scientist at the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company. Co-authors of the study are Rodney Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and co-director of CISAC, and Allison Macfarlane, professor and director of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia and former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where she took a particular interest in waste management.

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Posted in Nuclear | 16 Comments

South Korea and US Sign Nuclear Energy Pact

  • South Korea and US Sign Nuclear Energy Pact – Updated 05/21/22
  • Turkish Nuclear Plant Threatened By Russian Sanctions
  • Ukraine Planning For Post-War Nuclear Power Plants
  • Ukraine Rejects Use of  Zaporizhzhia NPP Exporting Electricity To Russia
  • DOD Selects Selects Nuclear-Powered Spacecraft Designs
  • Artificial Intelligence Used to Assess Metallic Nuclear Fuel

South Korea and US Sign Nuclear Energy Pact – updated 05/21/22

higbh tech(NucNet contributed to this report) US President Joseph Biden traveled to South Korea as part of a tour of Asian nations. The two nations signed a nuclear cooperation agreement including plans to continue cooperation in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

The agreement also covers collaborative actions involving a long list of high technology industries including computer chips.  Full Text Joint Statement  White House Fact Sheet 

In a May 20th weekly newsletter, Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security, a DC think tank, wrote there are serious issues that need attention if the two nations are to reap real benefits from collaboration in nuclear energy projects.

“If the U.S. and Korea are going to reboot their nuclear energy relationship, they will need to move beyond the summit rhetoric and take specific and difficult actions,” he said.

“In the area of civil nuclear cooperation, the essential objective is to resolve the Westinghouse-KEPCO dispute. Numerous discussions have occurred at working levels without result. . . . Without resolution of this issue, U.S.-Korea collaboration on large reactor projects won’t happen and suspended technical-level engagement won’t resume.”

Luongo also wrote, “The U.S. and Korea should have two overriding goals in this new environment – position themselves as reliable nuclear exporters that support the highest levels of nuclear governance and prevent China from filling the gap left by Russia’s nuclear export implosion.”

“This discussion should target opportunities, assess supply chain issues, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each country in nuclear export. Second, identify how to create collaborative financing for third country reactor exports and equitable mechanisms for profit sharing. Third, identify the research and test capabilities required to support next-generation advanced nuclear power technologies that can replace facilities in Russia or China.”

South Korea’s 180 on Nuclear Energy

Unlike its predecessor, which wanted to shut down all of the nation’s reactors, the new Yoon government is bullish on nuclear and recently said construction of two plants at the Shin-Hanul nuclear power station will resume in 2025 and an application will be made next year so that Kori-2 can be operated beyond its service life.

Work on the Shin-Hanul-3 and Shin-Hanul-4, 330 km from Seoul in the southeast of the country, was halted in 2017 under the nuclear phaseout policy of the previous administration.

U.S. Firms Firmly in the Mix

Considerable collaboration is already underway between South Korean heavy industry firms and two US firms – NuScale and TerraPower. Both firms are developing smaller scale nuclear reactors than the 1000 MWe or larger plants that have been built in past decades.

what are SMRs

NuScale – Samsung and two other Korean conglomerates have signed equity agreements with U.S.-based NuScale to build small-scale modular nuclear reactors in Asia as demand for clean energy grows globally.

NuScale and Samsung C&T and business units of Korean conglomerates Doosan Group and GS Group, will pursue the deployment of NuScale’s SMR power plants. Samsung, Doosan and GS Energy will advise NuScale in component manufacturing, plant construction and plant operation.

The deal was announced after Yoon Suk-yeol was elected South Korea’s president in March. Yoon, who took office on May 10, has pledged to embrace nuclear energy to accelerate South Korea’s goal to zero out emissions.

In April 2022 NuScale Power LLC and Doosan Enerbility Co., Ltd. announced through a signed agreement that Doosan will begin production of forging materials for NuScale’s Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) with expectations for full-scale equipment manufacturing by the latter half of 2023. Specifically, Doosan, a Korean industrials and energy company, will begin production of forging dies for NuScale’s Upper Reactor Pressure Vessel, marking the start of NuScale Power Module (NPM) production.

This milestone builds upon NuScale and Doosan’s existing relationship, which began in 2019 when Doosan made its initial equity investment in NuScale. Since then, Doosan has conducted an extensive multi-year effort, completing the design for manufacture of the NPM and performing manufacturing trials to reduce schedule risk and increase cost certainty.

TerraPower – TerraPower entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SK Inc. and SK Innovation on May 17, 2022. This MOU is in support of commercializing advanced reactor technologies and will allow the organizations to jointly explore potential synergies between TerraPower’s technology and SK Group’s energy portfolio.

A spokesman for TerraPower said the groups will also explore opportunities between TerraPower’s medical isotopes production capabilities and SK Group’s biopharmaceutical investment portfolio. TeraPower has the technology to produce actinium-225 (Ac-225), a radioactive isotope fortargeted alpha radiation therapy that destroys cancer cells without damaging nearby normal cells.

SK Group will also cooperate with TerraPower for development and commercialization of SMR technology and joint advancement into domestic and foreign nuclear power plant markets. The cooperation between the two sides are expected to help Korean nuclear-related companies secure SMR core technology and foster related industries.

Update: 05/21/22 US & ROK Joint Statement on Nuclear Energy

The two leaders recognize the importance of nuclear energy as a critical and reliable source of carbon-free electricity, an important element to grow our clean energy economy, and an integral part of enhancing global energy security.

The two leaders commit to greater nuclear energy collaboration and accelerating the development and global deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors by jointly using export promotion and capacity building tools, and building a more resilient nuclear supply chain.

The two Presidents reaffirm that both countries will engage in global civil-nuclear cooperation in accordance with the highest standards of nuclear nonproliferation, including the IAEA Additional Protocol as the standard for both international safeguards and for nuclear supply arrangements.

Acknowledging the shared goals of deepening strategic ties, while respecting each country’s intellectual investments, both leaders commit to using tools such as the ROK-U.S. Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Technology Transfer and Export Cooperation to provide a solid foundation for strengthened cooperation in the U.S., ROK and overseas nuclear markets and the High-Level Bilateral Commission, to further cooperation for spent fuel management, nuclear export promotion, assured fuel supply and nuclear security.

The U.S. welcomes the ROK’s decision to join the U.S.-led Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program.  (link to full text at White House press room)

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Turkish Nuclear Plant Threatened By Russian Sanctions

(Aljazeera)(AFP) Unprecedented sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine have led to fresh concerns about Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is being built by Rosatom, Moscow’s state-owned nuclear company.

The first reactor of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, located on the Mediterranean coast near Mersin, is due to start production next year, but potential problems may arise from western sanctions on Russia that will affect financing and equipment from third countries have threatened to delay the $20 billion project. The sanctions are a response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Rosatom, the Russian firm behind Akkuyu, has so far escaped sanctions but the option has reportedly been discussed by the United States. Banks such as Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution and a major backer of the nuclear plant, have been hit by these measures.

The Akkuyu plant, to be composed of four 1200 MWe VVER nuclear reactors, is expected when complete to provide Turkey with 10% of its electricity needs when all of its reactors come on line. According to Turkey’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the project is 100% financed by Russian capital. Efforts by Rosatom to attract investors from Turkey and other countries has not proved to be successful.

Russia’s Sberbank has provided Akkuyu NPP, which is mostly owned by Rosatom, with loans worth $1.2 billion since 2019. Sovcombank, another Akkuyu creditor subject to sanctions, gave loans valued at $300 million in March last year.

Possible sanctions against Rosatom could also affect the flow of equipment to Akkuyu, barring suppliers from providing energy industry equipment, technology and services.

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, aired on February 23, Akkuyu CEO Anastasia Zoteeva highlighted the “large amount of equipment” produced for the plant in countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and South Korea. A key component was manufactured by General Electric Steam Power. French company Assystem is also involved in construction supervision.

Other components that could be affected include turbines, reactor pumps, transformers and other electrical equipment to put power from the reactor on the grid, and, significantly, computer chips for sensors and gauges that are essential to build the four control rooms.

American Nuclear Society CEO Says Russian Exports Will Be Hurt By Sanctions

In a May 11th post at the ANS Nuclear News Wire, Craig Piercy, CEO of the American Nuclear Society, wrote, “Russia’s actions in Ukraine have also done material damage to the reputation of its own commercial nuclear enterprise. Putin has made clear his intentions to use energy as a political weapon, if there was any question before. Multilateral economic sanctions will significantly degrade Russia’s ability to provide state-sponsored financing for new nuclear builds, a key competitive advantage it enjoyed before the war in Ukraine began. You have to ask: How can any unaligned nation look upon Russia as a trustworthy partner?”

He added that China may be the main beneficiary of Russia’s loss of traction in the global nuclear market due to sanctions from NATO nations.

“Has this affected China’s ability to fulfill its nuclear ambitions? Perhaps. Siding with Russia at the beginning of the war must have resulted in some degree of reputational damage. But with a big checkbook, a comprehensive technology development program, and a clear commitment to use commercial nuclear exports as a tool of diplomacy, China’s nuclear sector could just as easily end up being the beneficiary of the vacuum left by a sidelined Russia.”

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Ukraine Planning For Post-War Nuclear Power Plants

(WNN contributed to this report)  Energoatom’s CEO Petro Kotin says that construction work on two new Westinghouse AP1000 units at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant “will begin as soon as the war is over.” He did not indicate where the financing would come from to pay for the project. EnergoAtom has said that the US Export/Import Bank would be a source of financing, but that agency did not respond to a media inquiry to confirm this claim. The US Department of Energy also declined to comment.

In an interview with news media in Ukraine, he said that the agreement signed last November with Westinghouse covered the construction of five AP1000 units in total, with the other three units to be distributed at the country’s other existing nuclear power plants.

Kotin said that in addition to those five units “we are looking at new sites. The most promising thing we are working on now is the Chyhyryn site in the Cherkasy region, where a power unit was planned to be built in Soviet times. There was a site allocated for this and there are good conditions, the population is positive about the construction of such a facility. It is the center of Ukraine, there is a high-power transmission line nearby, and a lot of water, which is important for a high-capacity nuclear power unit.”

Kotin added that before the war with Russia began the administration of the Odessa region had been keen to build a nuclear power unit. There had been plans, he said, during Soviet times for such a plant but it was cancelled after the Chernobyl accident.

Electricity Exports Planned

Another issued raised in the media call was that Ukraine currently has “a lot of capacity that is in reserve due to the reduction of electricity consumption in Ukraine,” which,could be exported. Interfax Ukraine reported that Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a government meeting Ukraine planned to resume addiingl power lines with Poland “to export electricity from Ukrainian nuclear power plants. It will help Europe stop importing Russian gas sooner.”

npp ukraine

Ukraine Rejects Use of  Zaporizhzhia NPP Exporting Electricity To Russia

(BBC) As a consequence of Russian troops having seized the Zaporizhzhia plant, the biggest in Europe, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has falsely claimed the facility would export electricity to Russia.

Ukrenergo, the Ukraine grid operation said not so fast. It said the plant was in the Ukrainian grid and the grid remains under the control of Ukrainian specialists.

“Ukraine’s power system currently has no physical connections with Russia’s power system. Therefore, the supply of electricity from Ukrainian power plants to Russia is currently physically impossible,” the grid operator said in a statement to wire services.

ZAP NucA spokesman for Ukraine’s state nuclear agency Energoatom said it would take years to link the plant to Russia.

The facility is one of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe composed of six 1000 MWe VVER reactors five of which were built between 1984 and 1989. The sixth unit was completed in 1995.

“The plant only works in Ukraine’s energy grid,” Leonid Oliynyk told the BBC.

“Now the power station is working at a minimum level, but Kyiv remains in charge, all the power lines are controlled by Ukraine. The Russian statement is wishful thinking,” Mr Oliynyk added.

Ukrenergo said Moscow is trying to destabilize talks with the European Union about the possibility of boosting electricity exports.

The EU and Ukraine linked Europe’s electricity system to the Ukrainian grid on March 16 in response to Russia’s invasion. The move means Ukraine can receive emergency power from Europe if military attacks caused power outages. Last month Ukraine said it could export more power to Europe without requiring grid upgrades.

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DOD Selects Selects Nuclear-Powered Spacecraft Designs

(Space News) The DOD Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) announced May 17th it selected Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. and Avalanche to develop small nuclear-powered spacecraft for in-space demonstrations planned for 2027.

DIU, a Silicon Valley-based Pentagon organization that works with commercial industries and startups, awarded both companies  contracts to demonstrate nuclear propulsion and power technology for future DoD space missions.

The selection of Ultra Safe Nuclear and Avalanche comes just seven months after DIU issued a solicitation for small nuclear-powered engines for space missions beyond Earth orbit. The deliverables are due from both firms in 2027.

“Advanced nuclear technologies will provide the speed, power, and responsiveness to maintain an operational advantage in space,” said U.S. Air Force Maj Ryan Weed, Program Manager for the Nuclear Advanced Propulsion and Power (NAPP) program at DIU.

“Nuclear tech has traditionally been government-developed and operated, but we have discovered a thriving ecosystem of commercial companies, including start-ups, innovating in space nuclear.”

nas-ntp-propulsion

Conceptual image of a nuclear propulsion system. Image: NASA file

Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear will demonstrate a chargeable, encapsulated nuclear radioisotope battery called EmberCore.

Avalanche, a venture-backed fusion energy startup also based in Seattle, developed a handheld micro-fusion reactor called Orbitron.

“Compared to other fusion concepts, Orbitron devices are promising for space applications as they may be scaled down in size and enable their use as both a propulsion and power source,” said DIU.

Future missions will demand more maneuverability and electrical power to expand the capabilities of spacecraft, allowing for orbital changes, methods to control or facilitate de-orbiting, the transfer of materials between orbits and solar shadow operations to name a few, etc.

DIU expects that its NAPP program will have a direct impact on how the U.S. employs space power, ushering in an era where spacecraft can maneuver tactically in cislunar space.

Ultra Safe Nuclear last year won a contract from the Idaho National Laboratory to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor concept for a NASA space exploration mission. The company also is a subcontractor to General Atomics and Blue Origin in the first phase of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA plans to launch the DRACO nuclear thermal propulsion demonstration in 2025.

Air Force Maj. Ryan Weed, DIU’s program manager for nuclear advanced propulsion and power, said the two small spacecraft prototypes funded by DIU complement the work being done by DARPA and NASA on nuclear propulsion for larger spacecraft.

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Artificial Intelligence Used to Assess Metallic Nuclear Fuel

A team of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and University of Idaho researchers has successfully applied machine learning to characterizing the microstructure of metallic nuclear fuel. The data collected through this technique will be used by engineers to predict fuel performance more accurately as they develop fuel for the next generation of nuclear power reactors.

The research team at INL’s Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory developed machine learning approaches to extract and analyze the size and connectivity of fission gas bubbles from irradiated uranium-zirconium fuel.

Gas bubbles are a natural byproduct of nuclear fission. As uranium atoms split apart, they produce heat along with smaller atoms including xenon and krypton. These and other byproducts are stored as bubbles within the fuel elements, resulting in microstructural changes that can limit the fuel’s ability to transfer heat to the reactor coolant, reducing efficiency.

The uranium-zirconium fuel under study by the INL team is being considered as an option for several next-generation reactor designs and has advantages such as a simplified manufacturing process and increased fuel burnup.

“The new approaches we developed will help us uncover the dynamic environment inside irradiated fuel in a nondestructive manner,” said Tiankai Yao, a post-irradiation examination specialist at INL.

“It also allows us to significantly accelerate our post-irradiation examination work via an automated process and provides us with accurate information including fuel morphology, fission gas bubble density and lanthanide distribution.” Lanthanides are elements that form during reactor operations and inhibit fuel efficiency.

“We are building reliable and efficient machine learning approaches to help reveal and interpret valuable insights from high-quality nuclear fuel data,” said professor Min Xian, director of the University of Idaho’s Machine Intelligence and Data Analytics Lab.

The data generated will enable a better understanding of fuel performance dynamics, such as how the distribution of microstructures evolve as thermal conductivity decreases over time.

“We look forward to further refining this capability and potentially applying our algorithms to other areas of post-irradiation examination work,” said Luca Capriotti, an INL post-irradiation examination specialist.

The project has produced several notable insights into uranium-zirconium fuel performance, including identifying fuel thermal conductivity degradation due to extensive pore structure and an increase of connected pores in hotter regions of the fuel.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal “Materials Characterization,” available by subscription. Abstract

The work was funded through the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and supported by the DOE Advanced Fuel Campaign.

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Posted in Nuclear | 2 Comments

TVA Targets 2024 for BWRX300 SMR License Application

  • TVA Targets 2024 for BWRX300 SMR License Application
  • Nuward / Tractebel To Work With EDF On Pilot SMR
  • Brookfield Set to Sell Westinghouse
  • UK Cavendish Nuclear and X-energy collaborate on HTGRs
  • S. Korea to Re-start Construction of two 1400 MWe PWRs
  • DOE/ARPA-E Seeks Proposals to Recycling Spent Fuel for Use in Advanced Reactors
  • MIT Signs on for New Five-Year Collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems

TVA Targets 2024 for BWRX300 SMR License Application

(WNN contributed to this reportcopyTVA announced that it will leverage its current early site permit (ESP) for a small modular reactor (SMR) to submit an application for a construction license for a GE-Hitachi 300 MWe BWRX-300 SMR.

As one of the largest nuclear utilities in the US, its plan to move forward with an effort to eventually build one or more SMRs is a game changer for the nuclear industry and its supply chains.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) CEO Jeff Lyash said licensing work would be the next milestone for project to build a BWRX-300 small modular reactor at Clinch River near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Lyash’s comments were made in a conference call to discuss the authority’s financial results for the second quarter of fiscal 2022.

Last year, TVA’s board approved investment of up to $200 million in a new nuclear program centered on Clinch River, and the authority is now in the process of supporting the detailed design development of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX300 and developing the licensing application package.

According to the NRC the BWRX-300 is in Pre-Application review of Licensing Topical Reports. A date has not been announced for submission of an application for a design certification review. Applications must closely analyze the design’s appropriate response to accidents or natural events. Applications must also lay out the inspections, tests, analyses and acceptance criteria that will verify the construction of key design features.

It takes a minimum of 42 months for the NRC to complete a review of an accepted application. Getting it accepted is the first milestone and sometimes the NRC kicks the application back for not being complete enough for the agency to conduct its review.

TVA’s New SMR Program

In February, TVA announced a new program to explore advanced nuclear technology as part of its decarbonization goals, with the pursuit of a construction license application for an SMR at the Clinch River site one of its first tasks.

It already has an early site permit (ESP)- issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2019 which certifies that a site is suitable for the construction of a nuclear power plant from the point of view of site safety, environmental impact and emergency planning, but does not specify the choice of technology. The ESP does not certify the safety of an specific SMR design.

“The milestone for that license application, while we haven’t said it yet, is most likely fourth quarter of 2023 or first quarter of 2024,” TVA’s CEO Jeff Lyash said.” That’s really the next decision point.”

Design, cost estimates, schedules, and risk assessments are being developed in parallel with the license application, and this will “put us at the next major gate” when TVA will be able to make a decision whether to go ahead with the next phases of design and procurement, Lyash  said.

TVA went down this road once before with BWXT for its 180 MWe MPower SMR. Despite a lot of work on the joint design and licensing program, the two nuclear organizations did not continue it leading TVA to pursue an ESP instead that didn’t specify a vendor design.

In April, TVA announced a partnership with Ontario Power Generation which has also selected BWRX-300 for deployment at its Darlington site. This partnership will allow the companies to find efficiencies and share best practices through coordinating their SMR design and licensing efforts and also, potentially, construction and operation.

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Nuward / Tractebel To Work With EDF On Pilot SMR

(NucNet)  The engineering company Tractebel, part of the French Engie group, has signed an agreement to provide engineering services to France’s EDF for the development of its Nuward small modular reactor design.

NUWARD is a 340 MWe European Pressurized Water SMR plant composed of 2 reactors of 170 MWe each, designed to address the world energy mix decarbonization challenge with a complementary solution to large size reactors and renewables. This technology is billed to replace old high-emitting coal, fuel, oil and gas plants around the world.

Nuward SMR

The company, head-quartered in Belgium, said in a statement that it will help during the conceptual design phase of the SMR plant. Engineers have already conducted technical and economic studies to confirm several design options.

The statement said the contract with EDF will include conceptual design studies for parts of the plant’s conventional island, water intake and servicing system, and the 3D modelling of buildings for these systems.

Tractebel will also be responsible for civil engineering preliminary studies, the evaluation of costs, and will draw up a Nuward site layout.

In 2019, EDF, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), reactor design and maintenance company TechnicAtome and the Naval Group announced plans to develop an SMR that could be on the market by the end of the next decade.

France wants to market NUWARD to expand the the French nuclear sector, which has depended largely on sales of its EPR, a large, 1,600-MW pressurized water reactor that has been sold to China, the UK, Finland and domestically is also under construction at Flamanville.

The NUWARD will be a multi-purpose plant, with a design that can be adapted for several uses including green hydrogen production, desalinization and heat cogeneration. This is another key attraction of SMRs – their potential uses beyond the production of electricity for established grids.

Tractebel said the basic design completion stage for the SMR plant is expected to start in 2023. The company said it is planning to work with EDF during this new phase on systems studies, civil and layout engineering, and electrical and safety licensing studies.

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Brookfield Set to Sell Westinghouse

(Pittsburgh Post Gazette) Brookfield Business Partners is seeking to sell all of its interest Westinghouse Electric Company just four years after buying it out of bankruptcy according to a May 10th report published in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. (Brookfield profile) (institutional shareholders)

The newspaper cited a statement from Brookfield that Westinghouse has been profitable and that the firm now wants to cash out and use the proceeds for newer, even more profitable investments. As noted in the paper’s report, the question is why sell if the firm is doing so well?

This is the second time Brookfield has put Westinghouse on the market. Brookfield told the newspaper they didn’t get enough investor interest to sell last year. Brookfield says now that the now there is an energy crisis in Europe, due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, there is revived interest in nuclear energy.

What’s interesting about this statement is that when Brookfield bought Westinghouse from Toshiba, the firm was emerging from bankruptcy caused in part by its mis-management of the now cancelled V C Summer nuclear plant that would have built twin AP1000 nuclear reactors in South Carolina.

ap1000
Brookfield’s primary interest in buying the firm from Toshiba was its nuclear fuel and reactor services lines of business both of which are reliable cash cows. It had no interest in building new reactors.

Brookfield Business Partners, a business unit of the Canadian firm Brookfield Asset Management, owns a 44% interest in Westinghouse. The remaining 56% is owned by private equity funds that are managed by Brookfield. In the end it is all one pile of money. According to public filings, Brookfield Business Partners lists its investment in Westinghouse at $405 million.

Brookfield Business Partners CEO Cyrus Madon told the newspaper, “Look, we’ve made many times our investment in Westinghouse. We’ve already pulled out more than our invested capital just through regular dividends. And I would say our job is sort of done here.”

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UK Cavendish Nuclear and X-energy collaborate on HTGRs

Cavendish Nuclear, part of Babcock International Group, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with US nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company X-energy to act as its deployment partner for High Temperature Gas Reactors in the UK.

X-energy’s High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor (HTGR) can support the decarbonization of industrial heat and hydrogen at scale, as well as electricity, helping to meet the growing demand for low-carbon energy.  It offers rapid deployment, with the first units set to be deployed in the US from 2027 with the UK planning to follow.

The MoU complements Cavendish Nuclear’s support to all three nuclear streams in the UK Government’s Energy Security Strategy: Large Gigawatt Reactors, Small Modular Reactors, and Advanced Modular Reactors such as HTGRs with the capability to focus on industrial heat and hydrogen.

Together the companies would combine world-leading US technology with the project integration, manufacturing, modularization and O&M capability of Cavendish Nuclear.

Mick Gornall, Cavendish Nuclear, Managing Director said, “This is an exciting opportunity for Cavendish Nuclear and X-energy to bring together the collective breadth and depth of our expertise and experience to forge opportunities to develop and deploy HTGRs in the UK.

“The UK Government’s choice of HTGRs as its preferred technology for the Advanced Modular Reactor Research Development & Demonstration Program, gives us the opportunity to explore the significant contribution X-energy’s technology can make to decarbonizing the wider energy sector.”

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South Korea to Re-start Construction of two 1400 MWe PWRs

Business Standard) South Korea seeks to resume construction of 2 nuclear reactors in 2025.
The project to build the two 1,400-megawatt reactors has been on hold since 2017; they had been scheduled to be completed by 2023

South Korea’s new administration will seek to resume currently suspended construction of two nuclear reactors in the coastal county of Uljin in 2025, government and industry sources said.

In its key policy implementation plan  President Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition team proposed restarting the construction of Shin-Hanul reactors No. 3 and No. 4 in the first half of 2025.

Yoon said multiple times during his election campaign that he would scrap the Moon Jae-in administration’s nuclear phase-out drive, Yonhap news agency reported.

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DOE/ARPA-E Seeks Proposals to Recycling Spent Fuel for Use in Advanced Reactors

(WNN) The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding of up to $48 million for a new program to recycle used nuclear fuel to produce feedstocks for advanced reactor fuel. The program named “Converting UNF Radioisotopes Into Energy (CURIE)” will be operated under the auspices of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The acronym for the program is a respectful reference to Marie Curie, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1903 for defining what we now call “radioactivity,” and in 1911 for chemistry her discovery of the elements polonium and radium using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes.

“CURIE will fuel advanced reactors and provide important clean energy elements, all while drastically reducing waste,” Acting Director of ARPA-E Jennifer Gerbi said.

According to ARPA-E’s funding opportunity announcement, CURIE’s goal is to enable commercially viable reprocessing of used nuclear fuel – or UNF – from the current light water reactor fleet by resolving key gaps/barriers in reprocessing technologies, process monitoring, and facility design.

nuclear fuel cycle

Image: Nuclear Regulatory Commission from US – The Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The used fuel would be reprocessed into feedstock that would be used to fuel advanced nuclear reactors, while other commercially valuable materials from it would be harvested for industrial and medical uses.

Program Description

The U.S. has accumulated approximately 86,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel (UNF) from light-water reactors (LWRs), a value that increases by approximately 2,000 tons per year. This UNF is destined for permanent disposal even though more than 90% of its energy remains.

Reprocessing UNF to recover reusable actinides and recycling them into new fuel for advanced reactors (ARs) would improve fuel utilization and drastically reduce the volume of waste requiring permanent disposal.

The CURIE program seeks to develop innovative separations technologies, material accountancy, and online monitoring technologies, as well as designs for a reprocessing facility that will enable group recovery of actinides for AR feedstocks, incorporate in situ process monitoring, and minimize waste volumes. A key cost metric is to enable a 1¢/kilowatt-hour (kWh) fuel cost for AR fuels, and maintain disposal costs in the range of 0.1¢/kWh.

By enabling the secure and economical recycling of the nation’s inventory of LWR UNF, CURIE will improve U.S. energy security, help protect the environment, and contribute to the economy in the following ways:

Individual awards will be for amounts ranging from $250K to $10M. At this level of funding it appears that most of the responses will be for paper feasibility studies. Building a spent fuel reprocessing facility would require funding in the range of billions of dollars.

Recent DOE experience in this area is problematic. DOE cancelled construction of a partially built plant in South Carolina to reprocess surplus weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel do to a combination of cost overruns and a loss of political will by the then Obama administration.

The US Navy reprocessed spent nuclear fuel at a chemical processing plant in Idaho for decades, but the facility was shut down in 1991 and is now part of the Idaho Cleanup Project. A federal consent decree requires that all of the remaining spent nuclear fuel at the site, now in dry storage, must be removed from the site by 2025.

It is not clear whether ARPA-E would accept any proposals for reprocessing the Navy spent fuel which was fabricated using highly enriched uranium. Russia has been downblending its HEU to fabricate high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel for advanced reactors. However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, access to the Russian fuel has been off limits to western nations.

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MIT Signs on for New Five-Year Collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems

MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) will substantially expand its fusion energy research and education activities under a new five-year agreement with Institute spinout Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS). The key objective of its research collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems is to build net energy fusion machine, SPARC.

types of fusion techA new five-year agreement will support SPARC science, increase graduate students and postdocs, and support interdisciplinary work toward fusion power plants.

This new agreement doubles CFS’ financial commitment to PSFC, enabling greater recruitment and support of students, staff, and faculty.

“We’ll significantly increase the number of graduate students and postdocs, and just as important they will be working on a more diverse set of fusion science and technology topics,” notes Whyte. It extends the collaboration between PSFC and CFS that resulted in numerous advances toward fusion power plants, including last fall’s demonstration of a high-temperature superconducting (HTS) fusion electromagnet with record-setting field strength of 20 tesla.

The combined magnetic fusion efforts at PSFC will surpass those in place during the operations of the pioneering Alcator C-Mod tokamak device that operated from 1993 to 2016. This increase in activity reflects a moment when multiple fusion energy technologies are seeing rapidly accelerating development worldwide, and the emergence of a new fusion energy industry that would require thousands of trained people.

The new agreement, administered by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), where CFS is a startup member, will help PSFC expand its fusion technology efforts with a wider variety of sponsors. The collaboration enables rapid execution at scale and technology transfer into the commercial sector as soon as possible.

“This expanded relationship puts MIT and PSFC in a prime position to be an even stronger academic leader that can help deliver the research and education needs of the burgeoning fusion energy industry, in part by utilizing the world’s first burning plasma and net energy fusion machine, SPARC,” says PSFC director Dennis Whyte.

“CFS will build SPARC and develop a commercial fusion product, while MIT PSFC will focus on its core mission of cutting-edge research and education.”

MITEI director Robert Armstrong adds, “Our goal from the beginning was to create a membership model that would allow startups who have specific research challenges to leverage the MITEI ecosystem, including MIT faculty, students, and other MITEI members. The team at the PSFC and MITEI have worked seamlessly to support CFS, and we are excited for this next phase of the relationship.”

In the push for commercial fusion energy, the next five years are critical, requiring intensive work on materials longevity, heat transfer, fuel recycling, maintenance, and other crucial aspects of power plant development. It will need innovation from almost every engineering discipline.

On a strategic level, climate change and the imperative need for widely implementable carbon-free energy have helped orient the PSFC team toward scalability.

“Building one or 10 fusion plants doesn’t make a difference — we have to build thousands,” says Whyte.

“The design decisions we make will impact the ability to do that down the road. The real enemy here is time, and we want to remove as many impediments as possible and commit to funding a new generation of scientific leaders. Those are critically important in a field with as much interdisciplinary integration as fusion.”

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IAEA – Nuclear Plant Safety in Ukraine "Far from Resolved"

  • IAEA – Nuclear Plant Safety in Ukraine “Far from Resolved”
  • Risks of Cyberattack On Ukraine Nuclear Plant Aired to EU Parliament
  • Update on Westinghouse Presence in Ukraine

IAEA – Nuclear Plant Safety in Ukraine “Far from Resolved”

IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement that the risk of a accident at a nuclear reactors in Ukraine is a major source of worry for the agency. He called the situation “far from being resolved.”

Grossi made his remarks at a hearing of the European Union Parliament.

iaea Dir Gen GrossiAccording to the IAEA Chief, (right) the agency’s main “preoccupation” are the Zaporizhia reactors, located at Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.

It has been occupied by Russian military troops for the past two months. Two of the six reactors at the site are still being operated by Energoatom which is Ukraine’s state owned nuclear utility.

The situation is far from stable. According to Grossi, Russian nuclear engineers from Rosatom are at the site, but “their function is not entirely clear.”

He said their presence “goes against every safety principle that we have” and creates the “potential for disagreement, for friction, for contradictory instruction,” and conflict between the Ukrainian plant operators and the Rosatom engineers.

Grossi added that with the Russians in control of Zaporizhia it isn’t possible for the Ukraine nuclear safety agency to verify the status of nuclear material at the plant which include spent nuclear fuel. IAEA experts currently don’t have access to the plant which means they can’t carry out the agency’s nuclear safeguard activities which include physical inventories and monitoring.

“Without that we cannot ensure to the international community where the nuclear material is or what’s happening with it,” he said.

“But when I’m confronted with a situation … where we have more than 30,000 kilograms of enriched uranium and a similar amount of plutonium and I cannot go and inspect the situation with this nuclear material, it is a very real danger and something that should be considered in all its seriousness.”

IAEA Chief Meets with Roastom Counterpart

The IAEA has been negotiating with the Russian forces for Grossi and a team to travel to the Zaporizhzhia plant, but progress in terms of arranging the trip has been slowed down by political and logistical hurdles.

On May 5th Grossi, met with Alexey Likhachev, Director General of Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, and other senior Russian officials in Istanbul, Turkey.

Rosatom said in a statement issued after the meeting, as reported by World Nuclear News,”The officials reviewed the entire agenda of the Russia-IAEA working relationship. In particular, the parties discussed in detail the matter of ensuring safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine under current complicated circumstances.”

It said the two men “paid particular attention to the state of affairs” at Zaporizhia “including taking into account the IAEA director general’s intention to organize a technical mission of the IAEA specialists to this NPP.

In turn, when discussing the aforementioned range of issues, Alexey Likhachev stressed ensuring safe operation of nuclear installations in the broadest sense possible was an absolute priority for the Russian side and for the Russian nuclear industry. The parties agreed to continue regular contacts.”

Update on IAEA Actions in Chernobyl

Separately, Grossi said that the situation at the Chernobyl nuclear plant “appears to be stabilized.” He added that a team of IAEA experts will travel to the plant in the near future.

On April 28th the Washington Post reported “Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the levels of radiation in areas excavated by Russian soldiers near the Chernobyl nuclear site were elevated but that they still fell well within the limits for workers’ annual exposure.”

Grossi said that radioactivity levels at the Chernobyl area were “at normal,” but that the Russian military occupation of Chernobyl in the first weeks of the war was anything but routine. “I don’t know if we were very close to disaster, but the situation was absolutely abnormal and very, very dangerous,” he said.

The IAEA tested areas around the Chernobyl plant where Russian soldiers dug trenches and established camp sites. He said “I would say it was not a good thing. I wouldn’t recommend anybody to start excavating a place known to be subject to high levels of radiation.”

Primary isotopes around the plant include cesium and strontium. In terms of the method of assessing exposures by Russian troops to the radioactivity in the disturbed soil around the plant, e.g., time, distance, and shielding, it isn’t know how long the Russian soldiers were exposed, but since they dug up the soil, distance is a likely less than a foot, and, of course, there was no shielding. The soldiers would have likely inhaled some of the radioactive particles they disturbed and ingested them via while eating their food in the trenches.

According to the newspaper Grossi said that while the radiation levels were only a third as high as the established limit, the spot where Russian soldiers had dug trenches was “clearly not a place to have a picnic.”

ukraine reactors

Regarding the country’s 15 operational reactors at four NPPs, the IAEA said seven are currently connected to the grid, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya NPP, two at the Rivne NPP, two at the South Ukraine NPP, and one at the Khmelnytskyy NPP. The eight other reactors are shut down for regular maintenance or held in reserve. Safety systems remain operational at the four NPPs, and they also continue to have off-site power available.

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Risks of Cyberattack On Ukraine Nuclear Plant Aired

(NucNet) The gravest concern about Russia’s impact on nuclear risk is that Moscow might intentionally carry out a cyberattack or a physical attack against a nuclear power plant, thereby unleashing a severe accident, Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow in the Carnegie think-tank’s nuclear policy program told British MPs. (Full text – PDF file)

Mr. Hibbs, who specializes in nuclear verification and safeguards and international nuclear cooperation, said this potential threat must be taken seriously, because Russia has carried out indiscriminate ground and air attacks upon civil infrastructure aimed at Ukraine’s population, and because cyberwarfare against targets in Ukraine including electric power grid installations and systems have been widely attributed to Russian actors and interests.

Cyber security and protection word tag cloud. 3D rendering, blue English variant.

In evidence presented to a UK parliamentary roundtable on the Ukraine crisis, Hibbs said there is no record documenting specific cyberattacks against Ukrainian nuclear power reactors, but there are accounts attesting to nearly a decade of cyberwarfare against Ukraine’s electric power grid. Hibbs said it is not known how well-protected Ukraine’s nuclear power plants are from a cyberattack. For instance, are the control room electronics physically separated from the Internet and all other non-safety related computer systems in the plant, e.g., business, admin, etc.?

A cyberattack against a nuclear power plant could involve malware taking control of an installation’s control room operating systems. It could involve use of malware to destabilize the reactor by imitatating normal operation, and fool the plant operators to conclude that they do not need to intervene. Te result could be a dangerous disruption of plant operations. If the attack succeeds, operators may lose control of the plant and not be able to detect or effectively respond to an externally instigated event that could develop into a severe accident.

All of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors are Russian supplied and built VVERs. Ukraine has 15 Russian-design commercial nuclear power reactors  (See table below) at four locations generating about half of its electricity; seven units are currently in operation.

Russia has full knowledge about the design and operation of nuclear power plant control systems and any software for operating and protecting Ukraine’s nuclear plants that had been installed at the time of power plant construction and initial operation. If Russia wanted to find and exploit a software security vulnerability, it has the schematics and code to find one. It would have to risk the outcome, which might be a major nuclear accident, against the justification for the tactic.

reactors ukraine

Hibbs said there may be insiders in the plant organizations who might be in a position to facilitate a cyberattack and while that is real threat, he also warned that Russia may be unfamiliar with upgraded software and equipment installed after operation of the reactors began, especially during the last decade. However, assuming the Russians supplied the software upgrades, they would have technical details on them.

Hibbs told MPs that barring other specific information about Russia’s military aims, it “would not appear likely” that Russia would intentionally destroy a nuclear power plant in Ukraine because doing that would have no military or strategic utility and might result in a radiological contamination of Russian territory. The UNSCEAR reports on the extent of radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl accident shows several areas inside Russia and Belarus impacted by radiological contamination from the  accident.  In short, a successful cybersecurity attack on a Ukraine nuclear power plant could backfire in a catastrophic and unpredictable manner.

chernobyl radiation map

Maps of Radionuclide Deposition from Chernobyl Accident – UNSCEAR

The main concerns are that Russian forces may attack or wrest control of nuclear power reactors, directly or indirectly, as a result of indiscriminate artillery fire, cause a serious or severe nuclear accident, or take other actions that may result in the exposure of Ukraine’s population to ionizing radiation.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Russia has validated these concerns by shelling a nuclear research institute in Kharkiv and by attacking, overrunning and occupying Europe’s biggest nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia. Russian is now in control of that plant which the IAEA says is “an unstable” situation.

Should the war continue unabated for a year or longer, other nuclear threats may emerge. These risks are that civilian population will be exposed to radiological sources that may be dispersed and broken by Russian air and artillery attacks on industry installations and hospitals.

The sources are robust stainless steel capsules about the size of a small coin or a needle which contain radioactive material – typically Cobalt-60, Cesium-137, Americium-241 or Radium-226. Each capsule is designed to have a recommended working life of 10 to 15 years and is licensed to a specific owner for a specific use.

While some sources like Americium-241 are in wide use especially in household smoke detectors, Cobalt-60 is a gamma emitter and ingestion and/or inhalation can result in cancer. External exposure to large amounts of Cesium-137 can cause burns, acute radiation sickness and even death. Exposure to such a large amount could come from the mishandling of a strong industrial source of Cesium-137.

News media reports indicate that in their looting of the Chernobyl plant, Russian forces removed radioactive sources from the site but later abandoned them elsewhere in Ukraine. It isn’t clear what the condition is of the radioactive sources that were abandoned by Russian forces, e.g., whether the sealed sources were damaged or otherwise opened allowing radiation to potentially affect anyone coming near them.

Also, all of the reactors that Ukraine operates will over time require maintenance, refueling, and transport of equipment, personnel, and nuclear material.

  • Movements of unirradiated irradiated enriched uranium fuel may be targeted by Russian forces;
  • Attacks could interrupt supply of equipment and fuel to their destinations;
  • Should irradiated fuel be dispersed, radiation-emitting materials would threaten the environment and the civilian population.

All of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors are pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Most were built during the 1980s and 1990s. The 30-year operating licenses for Ukraine’s PWRs have been or will probably be extended, permitting most of them to continue operating through the 2020s and beyond.

Especially during the last decade Ukraine’s nuclear power plants have been back fitted and upgraded with modern, mostly Western equipment and engineering systems. The oldest units, Rivne-1 and -2 in northwestern Ukraine, date from the 1970s. Unlike the rest of Ukraine’s power reactors these are not equipped with reinforced concrete-steel containments and are therefore more vulnerable to the threat of a severe accident with off-site radiological consequences especially if one of Russia’s military actions engages in random  artillery or missile attacks in and around a nuclear plant.

Update on Westinghouse in Ukraine

In recent years EnergoAtom has shift its acquisition of fuel for the reactors from Rosatom to Westinghouse for several of its reactors. Rosatom, which had until this change in fuel suppliers took place, regarded Ukraine as a captive market. It complained that Westinghouse would not be able to make the fuel for the VVERs, but it did and the fuel has worked as specified. World Nuclear News reported that the deal was updated in 2020.

Westinghouse now supplies about half the nuclear fuel used by Ukraine’s Russian built reactors. Westinghouse began supplying fuel to Ukraine in 2005.  The six units using VVER-1000 reactor fuel assemblies manufactured by Westinghouse are South Ukraine 2 and 3, and Zaporozhe 1, 3, 4 and 5. (Fact Sheet – PDF file)

Plan for New Reactors

In November 2021 Westinghouse announced that it signed a contract with Energoatom, the state-owned nuclear utility of Ukraine, to build five 1150 MWe AP1000 reactors at four separate sites in Ukraine. Four of the units will be new and one will complete a partially built reactor at the Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant.

The deal, with an estimated value of about $30 billion, initiates engineering and procurement of long-lead items for the first Westinghouse AP1000 unit to be built at the Khmelnytskyi site.

Other sites where future AP1000s will be built, presumably under extensions of this initial agreement, include current nuclear power stations – Rovno, South Ukraine, and Zaporozhye. At the Khmelnitski site, the company will complete Unit #4 and build a new Unit #5. Localization for the plants will be 60% according to EnergoAtom.

Financial terms were not announced and both the US EximBank and the US Department of Energy declined to comment on the deal. Since hostilities began in February the deal has been on hold.

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California May Yet Save Diablo Canyon

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California May Yet Save Diablo Canyon with Federal Credits

(NucNet contributed to this report) California Governor Gavin News, after several weeks of hemming and hawing over the Biden’s administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, said last week he would now apply for federal credits to help keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant open.

diablo canyon

The Federal credits are part of a multi-billion dollar program to save the nation’s nuclear power plants from rapacious market forces. California governor Gavin Newsom said he is open to extending production of electricity and desalination at Pacific Gas & Electric’s two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear power station, the only nuclear station in the state, beyond its planned August 2025 retirement.

The plant, commissioned in the mid-1980s, is the largest source of electricity in California. The two 1100 MWe reactors produce about 8.6% of total California generation and 23% of carbon-free generation. The reactors supply the electrical needs of more than 3 million people.

The complex history behind PG&E’s decision in 2016 to close the plant in 2025 is based on the strident anti-nuclear politics of California’s environmental groups and as well as the influence of national groups like NRDC.

While the groups claim the power provided by the closed plant could be replaced by a combination of natural gas and renewables, experts in the public utilities field pointed out that the stability of the entire California grid would be at risk under such an arrangement. It would also lead to increased CO2 from new gas plants. Similar arguments were advanced to close the twin 100 MWe reactors at Indian Point in New York, but subsequent history has not borne them out.

Governor Newsom also expressed concern about the cost of new solar energy projects based on US tariffs imposed on Chinese components for the renewable power systems.

Until now efforts by a broad coalition of civic and pro-nuclear groups made little headway in their efforts to save the plant.  However, once the Biden administration made dealing with climate change a priority and convinced Congress to put real money on the table to back his policy agenda, the possibility of saving the reactors took on new urgency.

MIT / Stanford Study

A MIT/Stanford University study released late last year  made the case for keeping the plant open until 2035. A report from researchers at MIT and Stanford states that keeping Diablo Canyon running until 2035 would reduce the state’s carbon emissions from electricity generation by 11% every year, save the state a cumulative $2.6 billion, and improve the reliability of the grid.

The study said delaying the shutdown could provide multiple benefits by simultaneously helping to stabilize the state’s electric grid, provide desalinated water to supplement the area’s chronic water shortages, and provide carbon-free hydrogen fuel for transportation.

Steven Chu, energy secretary in the Obama administration, endorsed the study and said:

“We are not in a position in the near-term future to go to 100% renewable energy, and there will be times when the wind doesn’t blow, the sun doesn’t shine and we will need some power that we can turn on and dispatch at will, and that leaves two choices: fossil fuel or nuclear”

He noted that countries that have shut down their nuclear plants have ended up using more fossil fuels. He also called the decision to shutdown the plant “distressing” and said “Nuclear power is something we should reconsider, and we should ask PG&E to reconsider.”

Earlier this year nearly 80 scientists, academics and entrepreneurs from a range of disciplines, including former US energy secretary Steven Chu, sent a letter to Governor  Newsom asking him to delay the closure of Diablo Canyon.

“The threat of climate change is too real and too pressing to leap before we look. Considering our climate crisis, closing the plant is not only irresponsible, the consequences could be catastrophic. We are in a rush to decarbonize and hopefully save our planet from the worsening effects of climate change. We categorically believe that shutting down Diablo Canyon in 2025 is at odds with this goal. It will increase greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and make reaching the goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 much harder and more expensive.”

DOE’s Plan to Save Nuclear Reactors at Risk of Shutting Down

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans last month to seek applications and sealed bid submissions under the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNC) to support the continued operation of U.S. nuclear reactors. The guidance directs owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down due to economic circumstances on how to apply for funding to avoid premature closure. This includes instructions on formulating and submitting sealed bids for allocation of credits.

This critical investment, made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help avoid premature retirements of reactors across the country due to financial hardship, preserve thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs to sustain local economies and protect our supply of carbon-free electricity generation.

“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

What’s Next?

It’s not clear if Governor Newsom gets the funds whether the anti-nuclear groups that are parties to the 2016 closure deal will file lawsuits to prevent the money from being spent to save the reactors. Also, assuming that the money does become available, PG&E will likely have to reopen its license renewal efforts with the NRC. In the past, the NRC has allowed nuclear utilities to continue to operate under their current license if deliberations for a 20-year extension are taking place.

Reuters reported that last November, a spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) said that renewal would require upgrades to help the plant withstand earthquakes and to make changes to its cooling systems. Those investments would likely cost more than $1 billion. It’s not clear whether these requirements are just political tactics to keep the plant on a trajectory to close or real issues.

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Nuclear Power for Ships Gets New Ideas

Core Power to Offer Nuclear Powered Floating Desalination Ship

(Ship & Bunker News) Nuclear reactor firm Core Power has proposed using a nuclear-powered ship as a mobile desalination plant. The firm said it is designing systems for deploying advanced reactors offshore to produce vast quantities of fresh clean water for communities in need, without polluting the environment.

The company has developed a ship design with an 80 MWe molten salt reactor to be installed in a ship in that could provide millions of gallons of drinking water a day.

core power reactor concept

“Floating desalination will allow these facilities to be flexible overcoming the low utilization rates of many existing facilities, as well as allow a decrease in build times due to a greater use of modularized construction techniques in shipyards,” the company said in the statement.

Norwegian Firm Sets Plans for Ship with Thorium Fueled MSR

Nuclear power is increasingly being considered as a means for parts of the shipping industry to eliminate their carbon emissions.

Norwegian maritime solutions company, Ulstein, has unveiled a new vessel concept that holds the potential to deliver zero-emission cruises and other ocean industry applications, the company said in a press release.

While MSRs have been proposed to be used to produce power on land, they haven’t been used at sea before, and Ulstein has designed a concept vessel, Thor, to serve as a blueprint for making future electric vessels self-sufficient.

ulstein nuclear rescue

The nuclear powered ship is being proposed for two missions – rescue at sea and oceanographic research. The company plans to build four ships with the design.

For its rescue missions, Thor will be equipped with helicopter pads, autonomous surface vehicles, airborne drones, cranes, workboats, rescue booms, and firefighting equipment. To serve its research functions, it will be equipped with laboratory spaces as well as a lecture lounge.

Ulstein claims that Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled up to meet the needs of up to four expedition cruises at once, while also being self-sufficient for its own power needs.

For demonstration purposes, Ulstein has also developed an Ice Class expedition vessel called SIF that will be powered by next-generation batteries. The 328 feet (100 m) long expedition vessel has a capacity of 160 members, with 80 members of the crew and 80 passengers and the capability to tread the Arctic and Antarctic waters.

The proposed MSR would use thorium dissolved in molten salt, and the chain reaction in the reactor would be used to produce steam, which is then used to drive turbines and produce electricity without any emissions.

“MSRs have enormous potential for enabling clean shipping. There is so much uncertainty over future fuels, but here we have an abundant energy source that, with the right approach, can be safe, much more efficient, cheaper, with a smaller environmental footprint than any existing alternative,” noted Jan Emblemsvåg, an expert in the field of thorium and nuclear power generation and a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida – Nuclear Energy Needed Now

(Wire Services) Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the nation will use nuclear reactors to help reduce its own and other countries’ dependence on Russian energy especially for diesel fuel.

SONY DSCHe said Japan would address the “vulnerability of our own energy self-sufficiency” by broadening where it buys energy from, promoting renewables and using nuclear power to diversify its sources of generation.

“We will utilize nuclear reactors with safety assurances to contribute to worldwide reduction of dependence on Russian energy,” Kishida told an investor audience in London.

“Restarting just one existing nuclear reactor would have the same effect as supplying 1 million tonnes of new LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) per year to the global market.”

Facing elections in July and rising energy price, Kishida said that nuclear energy would be part of the country’s future energy policy. While some communities which benefit from the payrolls of worker at operating plants support restarts, opposition is fierce to others, like at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant with a net capacity of 7,965MW.

The plant management has repeatedly run into trouble with its rebuilding efforts related to public confidence due to muffled reports about minor incidents involving fires and mishandling of low level waste. The public, more or less fixated on the Fukushima disaster, is unnerved by reports of even the slightest hiccup in operations. Local politicians in the Niigata Prefecture have made entire careers bashing TEPCO for its ham handed communications and less than stellar efforts to convince locals to support restart of the site’s seven BWRs.

But a majority of Japan’s public and businesses want the government to restart nuclear reactors to address energy security, with the Ukraine crisis and higher energy costs having added momentum to that shift in opinion. Several lawsuits to stop the restart of other nuclear plants have been dismissed by the courts. However, stringent government regulation of the plants that have not yet reopened, despite completing safety upgrades related to the Fukushima crisis, remain a challenge for Japan’s nuclear utilities.

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UK May Build Seven Nuclear Plants By 2050, Probably More

Echoing a boast by UK PM Boris Johnson that the nation would address its energy crisis by building one reactor a year, Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told The Sunday Telegraph, “If we fast forward to 2050, there is a world where we have six or seven (nuclear) sites in the UK. That isn’t going to happen in the next two years. But it’s definitely something that we can aspire to.”

The term “aspirational” is probably undershoots what could be possible.  The UK is building twin 1700 MWe EPRs at the Hinkley Point C site and is moving along with plans to build two similar units at the Sizewell C site. All four reactors have the potential to be in revenue service by 2030.

Rolls-Royce is promoting its business case to build a fleet of 16 470 MWe PWRs over the next two decades. The firm recently submitted its PWR design to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation for the generic design review, which usually takes up to four years, but the firm says it thinks it can complete it faster, possibly in about two years. The company did not provide details. In any case, by 2026 at the latest the firm will be able to break ground for the first two units. Assuming its supply chain and production capabilities can keep up, the entire fleet could be in revenue service by 2040.

South Korea has recently expressed interest in entering the UK nuclear market related to other sites, which do not have current plans for new builds, such as Moorside, Wylfa, Oldbury, or Bradwell.

While the UK is less dependent on Russian energy than other European countries such as Germany, Kwarteng cited the need to avoid such imports.

“The idea is that, given what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is doing, we don’t want to live in a world where we’re dependent on Russian hydrocarbons,” he said.

Britain plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year. Why the nation is even importing Russian oil given its North Sea holdings is a mystery.

& & &

UK in Talks With South Korea to Build Nuclear Power Plants

The U.K. reported to be in talks with South Korea about building nuclear power plants in Britain to help the government’s efforts to replace its aging fleet of first generation reactors. Ten of the U.K.’s existing 11 reactors are due to close by the end of the decade.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is reported to have met with state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. to discuss participation in future projects.  No joint communique resulted from the ministerial meeting.

The discussions, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, are intended to revive efforts to build new full size nuclear power plants at Wylfa, Oldbury, Moorside, and Bradwell sites. All of them at one time had vendors lined up to build new reactors and all of them lack a vendor due to the absence of firm government support for financing and rate guarantee.

The Bradwell site, which was to be built by Chinese state-owned nuclear firms, is in play because UK Boris Johnson exited a deal with China to proceed in return for an equity stake in the Sizewell C project. Meanwhile, China’s 1000 MWe PWR, the Hulaong One, is nearing completion of  the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation’s generic design assessment process.

The UK government is now scrambling to replace the Chinese commitment to Sizewell C and to Bradwell with western institutional and sovereign wealth fund investors. The UK government wants private capital for 60% of the costs of building Sizewell C, with the state and EDF both taking a 20% share. Funding for Bradwell might take place under the recently approved RAB financing method assuming a nuclear vendor can be found for it.

If South Korea is seek to enter the UK nuclear market, it might be able to shorten the licensing process by citing its work in the UAE building four 1400 MWe PWRs. The UAE managed to process the license applications in about half the time it takes the UK ONR to achieve the same result.

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DARPA Seeks Proposals for Nuclear Thermal Rockets

DARPA is seeking proposals for Phases 2 and 3 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program for the design, development, fabrication, and assembly of a nuclear thermal rocket engine. The goal is to execute an in-space flight demonstration of nuclear thermal propulsion in fiscal year 2026.

draco_v2_619The overall objective of DRACO is to enable time-critical missions over vast distances in cislunar space, the area between Earth and the moon.

Nuclear thermal propulsion achieves high thrust-to-weight similar to chemical propulsion but with two to five times the efficiency using systems that are both faster and smaller than electric and chemical systems, respectively.

These propulsion capabilities will enable the United States to enhance its interests in space and to expand possibilities for NASA’s long-duration human spaceflight missions.

Phase 1 of the DRACO program involved two parallel risk reduction activities. Track A focused on developing a preliminary design for the rocket engine reactor. Track B concentrated on developing a conceptual design for the in-orbit demonstration system.

DRACO’s planned Phases 2 and 3 will focus on developing and demonstrating nuclear thermal rocket engine operation in orbit. The Broad Agency Announcement can be found at sam.gov  The RFP was published on 05/04/2022 and responses are due 08/05/2022. See the RFP for scope and other contracting information. Direct Q&A to HR001122S0035@darpa.mil

DARPA awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations in April 2021. General Atomics received a $22 million order to develop a design for a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and subsystem, the centerpiece of the program.

Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin won contracts valued at $2.5 million and $2.9 million, respectively, to independently design a spacecraft using the propulsion system.

DARPA expects to choose one provider for the next two phases, which according to a May 4 solicitation are focused on finalizing the detailed nuclear thermal rocket design and building the spacecraft and its flight engine. Once completed, DARPA plans to conduct an on-orbit demonstration in fiscal 2026.

The agency’s fiscal 2023 budget request includes $57 million for DRACO, a $20 million increase from last year, which will support the transition to the next phase.

“The United States employs maneuver to maintain advantages in the land, sea, and air domains. However, maneuver is more challenging in space due to propulsion system limitations,” said Major Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

“To maintain technological superiority in space, the United States requires leap-ahead propulsion technology that the DRACO program will provide.”

According to DARPA, DRACO’s nuclear thermal propulsion system could enable rapid maneuver in space, which is difficult to perform with spacecraft powered by electric or chemical propulsion. While chemical systems provide a high thrust-to-weight ratio and electric systems offer high efficiency, a nuclear thermal system combines both features, making it ideal for cislunar missions.

“This enables NTP systems to be both faster and smaller than electric and chemical systems, respectively,” the solicitation states.

“The propulsive capabilities afforded by NTP will enable the United States to maintain its interests in space and to expand the possibilities for NASA’s long-duration human spaceflight missions.”

DARPA notes that NASA has a particular interest in NTP technology because of its potential to reduce the travel time of its missions and return astronauts to Earth much faster in the event of an emergency. The two agencies are cooperating on DRACO, and NASA has offered to partner with companies bidding on the later phases of the program, offering its subject matter expertise as well as testing facilities.

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Purdue and Duke Energy Plan Study for Campus Nuclear Reactor

purduePurdue University and Duke Energy announced April 27 that they plan to jointly explore the feasibility of using advanced nuclear energy to meet the campus community’s long-term energy needs.

Purdue and Duke Energy intend to study power produced through small modular reactors (SMRs). The joint press statement did not state a preference for a reactor type, e.g., LWR or one of the advanced designs, or a vendor.

It is likely that such a reactor would have dual missions of providing power for the university campus and as a research platform. A timeframe for completing the study wasn’t specified in the press statement. If this exploration leads to development of an SMR, it will be a first for the giant utility.

Only one SMR design is licensed in the US so far which is NuScale’s 50 MWe SMR. However, others are coming in the next few years including the GE Hitachi BWRX-300, which is also a LWR type design. Advanced designs involving high temperature gas configurations and molten salt reactors will likely be available before the end of the decade.

Assuming Purdue did decide to build an SMR on campus, applying for and getting a construction license could take up to four years and construction another two-to-three years. Funding for the project would have to be secured along with hiring of an EPC to build it. At current global pricing, a 300 MWe SMR would cost ($4500/Kw) about $1.35 billion. On the other hand, a 50 MWe SMR at the same cost, would come in at $225 million which is probably more in line with Purdue’s checkbook.

These timelines and costs didn’t phase the key leaders of the joint effort who expressed their enthusiasm for it.

“No other option holds as much potential to provide reliable, adequate electric power with zero carbon emissions,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

“Innovation and new ideas are at the core of what we do at Purdue, and that includes searching for ways to minimize the use of fossil fuels while still providing carbon-free, reliable, and affordable energy. We see enough promise in these new technologies to undertake an exploration of their practicality, and few places are better positioned to do it.”

Duke Energy Indiana President Stan Pinegar said, “We can share our experience with one of America’s premiere engineering schools to see what this technology could do for its campus as well as the state.”

Purdue is currently powered through the Wade Utility Plant, which is a 31 MWe gas fired combined heat and power system that uses steam to provide heat, electricity and chilled water that is used to cool facilities.

The Duke Energy Combined Heat and Power Plant at Purdue University, which began operations last month, is a 16 MWe gas-powered plant on the southern edge of the university’s West Lafayette campus. Built, owned and operated by Duke Energy, the plant produces electricity for the company’s customers and is a new source of thermal energy in the form of steam for Purdue’s heating and hot water needs. Approximately 50% of campus electricity is purchased from Duke Energy.

SMRs are revolutionary in part because of their modular nature. They can be prefabricated off site, thereby saving money and time in construction. And Purdue is at the forefront of this technology by pioneering, developing and verifying the steel-plate composite construction used in SMRs at the on-campus Bowen Laboratory through the Center for Structural Engineering and Nuclear Power Plants, which is led by Amit Varma, Purdue’s Karl H. Kettelhut professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Bowen Laboratory of Large-Scale CE Research.

“Steel-plate composite technology is fundamental to successfully deploying SMRs within budget and on schedule,” Varma said.

“We have the world’s pre-eminent team and facilities to conduct the testing, analysis, design, and construction demonstration to actualize the potential of this technology.

Purdue engineering leaders and experts involved will include Mung Chiang, Seungjin Kim, Amit Varma and Arden Bement.

  • Chiang is the executive vice president of Purdue University for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson Dean of Purdue’s College of Engineering.
  • Kim is the Capt. James McCarthy, Jr. and Cheryl E. McCarthy Head of the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University.

Bement achieved international recognition as director of the National Science Foundation and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He has a long and distinguished career with Purdue, having served as the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Electroceramics, the David A. Ross Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering, the chief global affairs officer, and the inaugural director of the Global Policy Research Institute.

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on California May Yet Save Diablo Canyon

Idaho Lab RFI for Net-Zero Campus Microgrid

INL-logo-blue-large.pngBattelle Energy Alliance (BEA), an entity that manages and operates the Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory, on April 29 launched a request for information (RFI) from industry, utilities, energy users, and other stakeholders that could inform how it can integrate nuclear-generated power and heat into a campus microgrid. The initiative falls under the April 2021–launched INL Net-Zero Program, which aims to eliminate or offset all emissions from the campus where 5,400 employees work.

Note to Readers: This blog post is a brief report about
and summary of the full INL request for information.
net zero 1 inl

In a statement to Power Magazine, INL Director John Wagner said, the lab’s demonstration of net-zero solutions, including the integration of advanced reactors on a campus microgrid, will be pivotal to the lab’s initiatives to explore nuclear’s power and heat capabilities.

“Nuclear energy is absolutely essential to achieving national and international net-zero goals,” Wagner said. “We see this work as not only a core part of our mission, but also an opportunity to lead by example and reduce barriers to deploying emission-free nuclear energy technologies to local and global communities.”

Request for Information

Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), the managing and operating contractor for the United States (U.S.) Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is issuing this Request for information (RFI) to invite input on options for reducing energy-related emissions at INL by using nuclear-generated electricity and/or heat as part of the INL Net-Zero Program.

BEA anticipates the eventual need for involvement of various subcontractors and suppliers to accomplish the INL Net- Zero Program. As such, BEA is seeking feedback from industry, utilities, energy users, and other stakeholders to inform the development of several alternative approaches, including design, construction, and operation of a nuclear reactor resource.

BEA is seeking information only and is not soliciting offers or acquiring services or goods at this time. This RFI will inform next steps in INL’s Net-Zero Plan to include Nuclear generation in the path forward.

INL Net-Zero Vision

INL plays an important role in helping the nation resolve its major energy and security challenges. At INL, the driving force behind our nuclear and other clean energy research and development (R&D) is creating clean, scalable, and sustainable energy solutions to address national and global needs while reducing environmental impacts. INL will lead by example, committing to become a national
carbon neutral prototype and achieving net-zero emissions from INL operations by 2031.

Using technology innovations, collaborations, increased efficiencies, and novel approaches, BEA will demonstrate the path forward for establishing a clean energy economy. This Program is an opportunity to demonstrate and deploy advanced nuclear reactors, grid integration, transportation electrification, improved energy storage, and other elements of clean, integrated energy systems at scale.

BEA is prepared to demonstrate net-zero solutions, including integrating advanced nuclear reactors and other clean energy systems on a net-zero microgrid to provide clean electricity, thermal energy, hydrogen, ammonia, and/or other value-added products to achieve our carbon-reduction goals (see Figure 1 above). BEA plans to implement and model the net-zero actions in three parts, building on each part: (1) Demonstration; (2) Pilot Applications; and (3) Campus-wide implementation to achieve net-zero by 2031.

inl_map_facility_home_thumb

Net-Zero at Idaho National Laboratory

BEA plans to demonstrate that current utility needs for affordable, reliable, and dispatchable generation capacity can be developed in tandem with cutting-edge clean energy technology. BEA seeks to be a research site where equipment manufacturers, pipelines and fuel transporters, clean fuels suppliers, DOE national laboratories, and utilities can come together to demonstrate the scalability of emerging technologies that enables the electricity sector and other energy use sectors to effectively achieve their energy and environmental goals.

This work will demonstrate how to transition between traditional fuels to emerging net-zero technologies at utility scale while maintaining reliable, resilient operations. Nuclear energy is a dispatchable energy source that does not emit greenhouse gases or other air pollutants during operation, offering multiple benefits to a decarbonized future—including improved air quality,1 firm power, and reduced volatility in energy costs.

Numerous studies have evaluated the potential costs associated with achieving decarbonization across the energy sector, while also maintaining the reliability and resilience of the electricity sector. These studies point to the need for firm power sources in the power mix to reduce electricity costs.

The peer-reviewed literature illustrates the potential for nuclear energy to be a significant contributor to achieving net-zero goals. At the same time, past performance also demonstrates the effectiveness of nuclear energy. France, for example, achieved 80% decarbonization of the nation’s electric grid in less than two decades by scaling up nuclear energy. We are focused on creating clean, scalable, reliable, and sustainable energy solutions to address national and global needs while reducing environmental
impacts.

This sits at the center of the Net-Zero Program. BEA has committed to becoming a national carbon-neutral prototype and achieving net-zero emissions across all INL operations by 2031. Achieving net-zero means drastically reducing onsite emissions and offsetting the limited residual emissions from activities that are very challenging to decarbonize. This is a substantial and long-term commitment.

BEA will use technology innovations and collaborations, increased efficiencies, and novel approaches to demonstrate the path forward for establishing a clean energy economy that includes nuclear energy generation.

As part of this goal, BEA’s microgrid allows for the introduction of energy from multiple zero carbon sources, including small modular and micro-reactors, into an operating transmission and distribution system. This test bed provides a singular opportunity for industry to prove components and test control systems. We anticipate exporting the fundamental design of the microgrid to future locations, such as stand-alone industrial parks, commercial facilities, and remote locations requiring net-zero carbon resources, to reliably meet energy demands through nuclear energy.

microgrid

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, elements of a microgrid (image) could include: controllable generation like nuclear power plants including small modular reactors, micro reactors, (not shown), gas-fueled combined heat and power (CHP) and fuel cells; limited or non-controllable generation like a photovoltaic solar array or wind turbine (not shown); backup generators; uninterruptible power supply (UPS); and energy storage capability.

The microgrid manager (at the center) balances generation and load. The microgrid interacts with the local distribution network or the macrogrid through the points of common coupling. The power sources incorporated into the microgrid depend on customer requirements (industrial, residential, etc.), and the business case for fulfilling them with various energy generation technologies.

SUBMISSION OF COMMENTS

BEA invites all interested parties to submit, in writing by May 2 2022, comments and information on matters addressed in this RFI. All questions and responses related to this RFI shall be sent to Wendy Hall at Wendy.Hall@inl.gov

  • RFI Release Date: April 4, 2022
  • RFI Revision 1 Release Date: April 14, 2022
  • RFI Responses Due: May 16, 2022

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Posted in Nuclear | Comments Off on Idaho Lab RFI for Net-Zero Campus Microgrid

China Greenlights Six New Nuclear Reactors

  • China Greenlights Six New Nuclear Reactors
  • Russia’s Mixed Prospects for Exports Due to Its Invasion of Ukraine
  • Update on Prospects for New Nuclear Power Plants in Poland
  • NuScale Spins Up Supply Chain for Major Reactor Components
  • Japan / JAEA And MHI Join Global Race To Generate Green Hydrogen From Nuclear

China Greenlights Six New Nuclear Reactors

greenlightThe Chinese government has given a green light to the construction of six full size MWe PWR type nuclear reactors at three coastal sites.

Four of the reactors, which are CAP1000s, are based on the 1150 MWe Westinghouse AP1000 design, and are located at;

  • Sanmen 3 & 4 – Zhejiang; to be built by CNNC
  • Haiyang 3 & 4 – Shandong; to be built by SPIC/SNPTC

Two additional reactors will be 1000 MWe Hualong PWRS One based on a French design.

  • Lufeng 1 & 2 – Guangdong; to be built by CGN

Westinghouse issued a press release calling the CAP1000s as being AP1000s, but while these units will have Westinghouse components, there will be significant localization for them.

According to Nuclear Engineering International, the CAP1000 is a licensed adaptation of the AP1000 with significant localization of nuclear components. Following is a brief summary of similarities and differences of the two design implementations based on this report.

The Westinghouse AP1000 is the main basis of China’s move to generation III technology, with four reactors built and commissioned at Sanmen and Haiyang, two each for for CNNC and CPI, respectively. SNPTC was responsible for the engineering, design and project management of these first AP1000 projects, which were built as part of a technology-transfer agreement with Westinghouse.

china nuclear plants map WNN

The next eight units (CAP1000s) will involve higher local content (the aim is for 80%), although they will still contain some key components from Westinghouse, including digital control systems, fuel and reactor internals. As part of the agreement, the Chinese supply chain takes an increasingly large share of reactor construction.

Overall, the World Nuclear Association (WNA)  notes differences in the CAP1000 from the AP1000 include conforming to Chinese design standard GB6429, construction management, supply chain technical requirements, post-Fukushima modification, and module design. The AP1000 design has undergone post-Fukushima enhancements, including addition of waterproof doors, 72-hour water supply, enhanced spent fuel pool level monitoring instruments, and an improved emergency command center

The fact that only four of these planned eight CAP1000s have been authorized so far leaves another four to be assigned to future sites. China’s list of planned new reactors is somewhat a work in progress as indicated by changes from time-to-time in assignment of specific reactor designs to various sites. WNA notes that it is likely that some planned CAP1000 will be displaced by the Hualong One which is also China’s export offering of a full size PWR. This shift will eventually end China’s reliance on Westinghouse for key components for these new reactors and strengthen resilience of the country’s supply chain.

The World Nuclear Association notes that China has become largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle, but is making full use of western technology while adapting and improving it. Relative to the rest of the world, a major strength is the nuclear supply chain. China has 53 nuclear power plants as of the end of 2021 with total generating capacity of 55 GWe.

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Russia’s Mixed Prospects for Exports Due to Its Invasion of Ukraine

The question is raised whether Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and resulting western sanctions, will have any effect on Rosatom’s exports of Russian built nuclear reactors? So far the answer is not much. This could change over time. For now, here is a snapshot of selected known deals with various countries listed in order, more or less, of best prospects to worst.

Egypt claims an end is in sight for long running paperwork snarls related to issuing a construction permit later this year for the 1st of four 1200 MWe Russian built VVER nuclear reactors.  Rosatom is financing 85% of the project cost.

Turkey is proceeding with Rosatom’s new build of 4 1200 MWe VVER at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast. However, Rosatom has not been able to attract investors for a 49% equity stake.  Three of the four planned units are under construction with the first unit begun in 2018 planned to be completed in 2023 and each additional unit to follow by one year respectively. Turkey has plans for reactors at two other sites, but no vendors are committed to build at them.

The future of the Akkuyu project may be impacted by western sanctions that will prevent Rosatom from procuring key components for nuclear and non-nuclear systems. Examples include components for the steam systems, turbines, computer chips for sensors and computers for the control room, and transformers and other parts to connect the reactor to the grid.

Rosatom is doing well with India having commissioned 2 1000 MWe VVER at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu; building 2 more, and planning 2 more. Separately, there is a plan for 6 similar units at Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. Separately, India is building a fleet of 10 700 MWe PHWRs using an all India supply chain as the CANDU type units do not require the large forgings for reactor pressure vessels.

Rosatom has broken ground to build four VVER-1200 units in China – two at Tianwan (units 7&8), and two at Xudapu (units 3&4). China is providing the financing with Russia responsible for the nuclear island only indicating significant localization for turbines, switchyard, and grid improvements. Russia previously built Tianwan Units 1 through 4. Units 5 & 6 are CAP1000s / M310 PWRs based on a French reactor design. No further VVERs are on China’s list of planned new nuclear power stations.

Rosatom’s prospects in Poland and South Africa are mixed due to intense competition from other vendors complicated by the current inability of neither nation to pay for 50% of the costs.

  • Poland’s private sector is moving ahead of the government by funding several SMR initiatives. Currently Russia does not offer an SMR for export though it has several SMR initiatives for domestic use of them in Siberia. While the Polish government has ambitious plans to build six full size reactors, it hasn’t secured its domestic funding share for the effort.
  • South Africa is reported to be planning an tender for 2500 MWe of nuclear generating capacity, but until the government fixes Eskom’s financial woes, it is unlikely to release it. In 2014 Rosatom signed an agreement with the then South African government headed by then President Jacob Zuma to build eight 1200 MWe VVER which would have locked in the country’s energy security with Russia for the next 60 years. The deal fell apart due to conflicts within the government over charges of nepotism, secrecy and double dealing in the procurement process, and other related charges of high level corruption.

Rosatom was edged out of building a 1000 MWe VVER in Argentina by China’s Belt & Road program which will build a 1000 MWe Hualong One pending final financial terms. Argentina wants China to pay for the whole $8B including grid upgrades. So far China has only offered 50% financing.

  • Argentina has long term plans to build another CANDU type reactor at the Atucha site. Russia has no experience with PHWRs making it an unlikely bidder for the effort. China has two CANDU in revenue service and has previously proposed to partner with Canada’s SNC Lavalin for work on a CANDU project in Romania.

Russia and China have been banned from bidding on tenders for new nuclear reactors in Czech Republic and Romania on “security grounds.” The Czech Republic blames Russia for blowing up a military warehouse full of munitions bound for Ukraine. Both countries push back on Russia’s presumption that the two nations are “captive markets” for new nuclear power based on their prior history of being behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War era.

  • The Czech Republic has a current tender out for a single 1200 MWe PWR at Dulovany and plans long term to also build one or more new reactors at Temelin. Romania continues its long running effort to complete two PHWRs at Cernavoda.
  • The Romanian government signed an MOU with NuScale last Fall for SMRs. A spokesman for NuScale said this week the due diligence and work scope planning for it is ongoing.  No Romanian nor US government funds are committed at this time to build an SMR.

Finland suspended work in April 2022 on licensing a planned new build of a 1200 MWe VVER at Hanhikivi. Plus, no construction activity was impacted as the new build is still at the paperwork stage due to recurring regulatory compliance issues. Preliminary site work was complicated over expansion of the site’s boundaries.

  • Update 05/02/22 – (NucNet) Finnish nuclear energy consortium Fennovoima terminated its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC contract) with Rosatom citing “significant delays”, the company’s “inability to deliver the project,” and worsening risks as a result of the war in Ukraine. Rostom has not been able to complete the requirements to obtain a construction permit from Finland’s nuclear safety agency. In April 2021, Fennovoima said commercial operation of Hanhikvi-1 was likely to begin a year later than originally planned in 2029. It said total investment costs for the project had increased from €6.5-€7bn to €7-€7.5bn. It looks like a potential next step for this project is for Finnish nuclear utility Fennovoima to re-issue a tender for it.
  • Finland, which shares a long common border with Russia, and was invaded by that country in 1940, is sufficiently alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that it is making plans to apply to join NATO. For energy security reasons, having Russia control a 1000 MWe nuclear reactor in country has become a non-starter.

Overall, Russia’s main problem for exports of full size nuclear power plants, VVER 1000 & 1200 MWe, is that the steel plates that are used to make reactor pressure vessels come from the Kramatorsk steel plant which is in a contested area of Donetsk, Ukraine. On April 9th Russian military forces attacked the railway station at Kramatorsk killing at least 50 people and injuring 100s more according to the BBC. It is not clear whether the steel plant itself has been damaged in the fighting. It isn’t clear that local Russian forces know the significance of the steel plant for Rosatom’s exports. Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces have indiscriminately shelled industrial and civilian targets as part of the invasion.

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Update on Prospects for New Nuclear Power Plants in Poland

There is a lot of activity among vendors seeking to build new nuclear power plants in Poland. The offers range from small modular reactors to full size, e.g., 1000 MWe or larger, plants. Leading the pack is South Korea which submitted a proposal to build six full size reactors. Poland has not yet announced how it will pay for new full size reactors.

Korea Submits a Bid

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) has made a “technical and price proposal” to Poland for the construction of six APR-1400 nuclear reactors by 2033.

The proposal called for “the construction of six APR1400 reactors with a total capacity of 8.4 GW, the first of which could start operation by 2033.

The Polish government noted that three nuclear energy suppliers have shown interest in the country’s program: Westinghouse, EDF and the South Korean KHNP. In addition to the Korean proposal just received, the country already has a proposal from EDF based on the EPR2 reactor design, and by September of this year, Westinghouse has to submit its proposal, which will be based on the AP1000.

Poland’s KGHM and TAURON to co-operate on SMRs

Polish companies KGHM and TAURON have signed a letter of intent regarding cooperation in the construction of small modular reactors (SMRs). KGHM is a copper and silver producer and large industrial energy user and TAURON is an energy company.

Under a contract signed earlier this year, KGHM with NuScale will implement the SMR technology in Poland. The first power plant is to be commissioned by 2029. Clean energy will power the production divisions of the copper company.

“We initiated the clean energy production project as one of the first in Poland. We have signed an agreement with an American partner [NuScale] and we are preparing investment analyses. The SMR technology will increase the cost-effectiveness of KGHM and transform the Polish energy sector. Together with TAURON, we will work and explore possibilities for further development,” said Marcin Chludzinski, President of the Management Board of KGHM Polska Miedz.

Pawel Szczeszek , CEO of TAURON Polska Energia, explained: “We strive to make modular nuclear reactors an important element of our target production mix. This will most likely be reflected in the new corporate strategy prepared in the Group. The cooperation established today with KGHM opens up this perspective for us.”

Bechtel Signs on with Polish Firms for Nuclear Work

Bechtel has signed Memorandums of Understanding with 12 Polish companies for the potential development of two new nuclear power plants in Poland. The projects could support construction of Westinghouse 1150 MWe AP1000s if Poland selects the company for this work.

In July last year, Westinghouse Electric Company announced the launch of front-end engineering and design (FEED) work under a grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency “to progress” the nuclear energy program in Poland.

Westinghouse said the FEED was one of the key elements in the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement between Poland and the USA regarding cooperation to develop a civil nuclear power program.

Westinghouse is executing the FEED, which will be based on AP1000 technology, together with Bechtel. The FEED study will be reviewed later this year by the Polish government to help in its selection of the best partner for the nuclear power plant program.

In January, Westinghouse signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with ten Polish companies for cooperation on the potential deployment of AP1000 nuclear power plants in Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. The MoUs include cooperation on the possible construction of six AP1000 plants for the Polish nuclear power plant program.

The first nuclear unit is to be commissioned in 2033, with five more units to follow by 2040. The coastal towns of Lubiatowo and Kopalino in Poland’s Choczewo municipality have been named as the preferred location for the country’s first large nuclear power plant.

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NuScale Spins Up Supply Chain for Major Reactor Components

US developer of small modular reactors NuScale is having a busy week signing up partners and suppliers for its plans to deploy its SMRs in global markets

NuScale Power and Doosan Sign Agreement to Begin SMR Production

NuScale Power LLC and Doosan Enerbility Co., Ltd. announced through a signed agreement that Doosan will begin production of forging materials for NuScale’s Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as early as 2022, with expectations for full-scale equipment manufacturing by the latter half of 2023. Specifically, Doosan, a Korean industrials and energy company, will begin production of forging dies for NuScale’s Upper Reactor Pressure Vessel, marking the start of NuScale Power Module (NPM) production.

Doosan completed a manufacturability review for the NPM in January 2021, which successfully established the manufacturing sequence and processes for the NPMs. Doosan is now working on NPM component prototype development. With this new agreement, Doosan will begin manufacturing of large forged materials used for NuScale’s SMRs in 2022 and expects to begin full-scale manufacturing of NPMs in the second half of 2023.

This milestone builds upon NuScale and Doosan’s existing relationship, which began in 2019 when Doosan made its initial equity investment in NuScale. Since then, Doosan has conducted an extensive multi-year effort, completing the design for manufacture of the NPM and performing manufacturing trials to reduce schedule risk and increase cost certainty.

NuScale Power Signs MOUs with GS Energy, Doosan, and Samsung on SMRs

NuScale Power LLC announced it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with its partners, Samsung C&T Corporation, Doosan Enerbility Co., Ltd., and GS Energy Corporation (“GS Energy”) to explore the deployment of NuScale’s VOYGR power plants. This announcement is a critical next step in bringing NuScale’s clean energy solution to Asia.

Along with financial support, Doosan, Samsung and GS Energy will lend their respective expertise to NuScale Power in areas such as component manufacturing, prior nuclear construction experience, and power plant operation. Doosan is a world-renowned nuclear pressure vessel manufacturer, Samsung is a trusted nuclear power plant contractor, and GS Energy brings more than 20 years of expertise as a power plant operator.

NuScale Power Signs Collaboration Agreement with the U.S. Reactor Forging Consortium

NuScale Power and the U.S. Reactor Forging Consortium (RFC), comprised of North American Forgemasters (NAF), Scot Forge, and ATI Forged Products, announced they have signed a Collaboration Agreement to leverage the existing robust forging supply chain in the U.S., to prepare NuScale to deploy its small modular reactor (SMR) technology to customers worldwide and to support, retain, and expand U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The RFC is the combination of highly qualified expert suppliers of nuclear-grade forgings for the worldwide nuclear industry. The combined three companies act as the only fully integrated manufacturer of large alloy and stainless steel open die, seamless rolled ring, and large uniquely-shaped forgings (heads with integral nozzles) in the Western Hemisphere with as-forged piece weights exceeding 160 tons.

Under the Collaboration Agreement, the RFC and NuScale will cooperate in design for manufacturability reviews for forged geometries to reduce welding, chemical composition tailoring and optimized configuration for fabrication. The collaboration will support the U.S. supply chain planning as NuScale approaches near term commercialization of the NuScale Power Modules™ (NPM).

Consortium member NAF is currently partnering with Pennsylvania-based Center for Advanced Nuclear Manufacturing, operated by Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC), on a full production size shell research project that will focus on the use of austenitic stainless steel for reactor and containment vessels in SMRs and advance reactors.

Financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Economic Development, NAF in collaboration with its joint venture owners Scot Forge and ELLWOOD Group, INC. will perform melting, forging, heat treating, rough machining, mechanical testing, and non-destructive testing while CTC oversees the development and performs independent technical evaluations of the forged material.

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Japan / JAEA And MHI Join Global Race To Generate Green Hydrogen From Nuclear

(NucNet) The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) are to establish a demonstration green hydrogen production project at the High-Temperature Test Reactor (HTTR) in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo.

The project means Japan has joined a number of countries in the race to generate green hydrogen from a nuclear reactor, The plan is to produce large quantities of low-carbon energy for industry, transport and home heating.

Hydrogen production is classified using a color scheme. “Grey hydrogen” denotes hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. Most of the world’s hydrogen production is grey. Green hydrogen, such as that produced by nuclear reactors, is considered low-carbon.

JAEA and MHI have been commissioned to set up the project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) as part of Japan’s efforts to attain carbon neutrality in 2050.

ANRE launched a tender in February for a demonstration project for the use of the HTTR for the mass production of hydrogen. JAEA, which operates the HTTR, chose MHI, which is conducting technical studies on hydrogen production using nuclear reactors, as the main contractor for the project.

The HTTR is a graphite-moderated gas-cooled research reactor. It achieved first criticality in 1998. It was restarted in July 2021 after the Nuclear Regulatory Authority said it was compatible with new regulatory standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident. The HTTR was shut down following the accident along with other Japanese reactors.

JAEA said the heat produced by the HTTR has applications for a range of purposes, including power generation, fuel performance and the desalination of seawater as well as hydrogen production.

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US and Canadian Nuclear Utilities Partner on SMRs

  • US and Canadian Nuclear Utilities TVA & OPG Partner on SMRs
  • Kairos Power Forms Advanced Nuclear Development Consortium
  • Rolls-Royce Sets 2029 for FOAK of its 470 MWe PWR in Revenue Service
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Plans 1 MWt Transportable Reactor
  • DOE Seeks Applications, Bids for $6 Billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program
  • US Think-Tank Calls For Widespread’ Deployment Of Advanced Reactors

US and Canadian Nuclear Utilities – TVA & OPG – Partner on SMRs

Two of North America’s leading nuclear utilities will jointly work to develop and deploy advanced nuclear technology as part of the broader efforts to achieve a carbon-free energy future.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)  are both exploring the deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs)  at their Darlington and Clinch River sites, respectively.

what are smrs

The agreement allows the companies to coordinate their explorations into the design, licensing, construction and operation of small modular reactors. No exchange of funding is involved. However, the collaboration agreement will help OPG and TVA reduce the financial risk that comes from development of innovative technology, as well as future deployment costs.

Jeff Lyash, TVA President and CEO. “Advanced nuclear technology will not only help us meet our net-zero carbon targets but will also advance North American energy security.”

“Nuclear energy has long been key to Ontario’s clean electricity grid, and is a crucial part of our net-zero future,” said Ken Hartwick, OPG President and CEO.

“Working together, OPG and TVA will find efficiencies and share best practices for the long-term supply of the economical, carbon-free, reliable electricity our jurisdictions need.”

“TVA has the most recent experience completing a new nuclear plant in North America at Watts Bar and that knowledge is invaluable to us as we work toward the new facility at Darlington,” said Hartwick.

“Likewise, because we are a little further along in our construction timing, TVA will gain the advantage of our experience before they start work at Clinch River.”

OPG and TVA have similar histories and missions. Both are based on public power models that developed from renewable hydroelectric generation before adding nuclear to their generation mixes. Today, nuclear generation accounts for significant portions of their carbon-free energy portfolios.

Both Utilities Actively Exploring SMRs

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) announced in December 2021 it will work with GE Hitachi (GEH) Nuclear Energy to deploy a Small Modular Reactor (SMR), the BWRX-300, at the Darlington new nuclear site, the only site in Canada currently licensed for a new nuclear build.

OPG and GE Hitachi will collaborate on the SMR engineering, design, planning, preparing the licensing and permitting materials, and performing site preparation activities, with the mutual goal of constructing Canada’s first commercial, grid-scale SMR, projected to be completed as early as 2028.

GEH plans to construct up to four 300 MWe small module reactors and aims to complete one of them by 2028 at the earliest. If built out to this level, the project at $4,000/Kw, would have an estimated cost at completion of all four units of $4.8 billion.

In December 2019 TVA became the first utility in the nation to successfully obtain approval for an early site permit (ESO) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to potentially construct and operate small modular reactors. The ESP approach was developed after a business arrangement with BWXT to support design and licensing of a 180 MWe SMR using LWR technologies did not go forward.

The 20-year Early Site Permit (ESP) is for a site at the 935-acre Clinch River plant near Oak Ridge, TN, for a nuclear facility that can produce up to 800 MWe total. TVA cited four SMR designs in its ESP application without stating a preference for any of them. An 800 MWe power station would likely require multiple units from any of the current SMR designs using LWR technologies. So far TVA has not stated a preference for any of them.

Kairos Power Forms Advanced Nuclear Development Consortium

Kairos Power has assembled four leading North American utilities and generating companies to launch an advanced nuclear development consortium named Kairos Power Operations, Manufacturing and Development Alliance (Kairos Power-OMADA) to advance the development of the company’s advanced fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR) technology.

Current member corporations include:

  • Bruce Power, Canada’s only private sector nuclear generator, producing 30% of Ontario’s power and employing more than 4,000 people.
  • Constellation, the nation’s leading provider of carbon-free energy. Headquartered in Baltimore, Md., its generation fleet powers more than 20 million homes and businesses.
  • Southern Company, a leading U.S. energy company serving 9 million customers through its subsidiaries with headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the largest federally owned utility corporation in the U.S., providing electricity for 153 local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and six surrounding states.

The purpose of KP-OMADA is to bring together best-in-class nuclear owners and operators to advise on the development of KP-FHR technology, licensing, manufacturing, construction, and commercialization. By collaborating, the alliance will pool knowledge regarding the siting and development of Kairos Power’s User Facility (U-Facility) – a full-scale, non-nuclear demonstration reactor and operations /maintenance training facility – and the siting and development of Kairos Power’s KP-X – a first-of-its-kind, 140 MWe/unit commercial reactor operating at grid scale.

Kairos Power Hermes SMR at Oak Ridge, TN

In May 2021 Kairos Power and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced plans to collaborate on deploying a low-power demonstration small modular reactor (SMR) at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP)(map) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The project is a paradigm change for TVA which in its early site permit for the Clinch River site for an SMR only referenced light water reactor designs and did not indicate a preference for any of them.

The joint TVA/Kairos project involves design and development of an advanced small modular reactor (SMR). Nicknamed ‘Hermes’ it is a demonstration version of Alameda, California-based Kairos Power’s KP-FHR, a 140 MWe fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor using TRISO (TRI-structural ISOtropic) fuel pebbles with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant.

The Kairos SMR has been selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to receive $629 million in cost-shared risk reduction funding over seven years (DOE share $303 million), under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Kairos Power’s construction permit application for the Hermes low-power demonstration reactor is currently under formal review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The firm says the plant will be operational in 2026.

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Rolls-Royce Sets 2029 for FOAK of its 470 MWe PWR in Revenue Service

(WNN)(Reuters) The chairman of Rolls-Royce SMR, Paul Stein, has told the Reuters news agency he hopes to get regulatory approval for its small modular reactor (SMR) design by mid-2024, with grid power from the first of a kind (FOAK) unit  able to be produced by 2029. The Rolls-Royce SMR is a 470 MWe design based on a small pressurized water reactor (PWR). The firm is currently scouting potential locations for the planned fleet of 16 units and is considering several sites abandoned by previous developers including Wylfa and Oldbury.

Reuters quoted Stein as saying that the regulatory part of the process had begun and “will likely complete in the middle of 2024. We are trying to work with the UK Government, and others to get going now placing orders, so we can get power on grid by 2029″.

The Rolls-Royce SMR design was accepted for Generic Design Assessment (GDA) review last month with the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy asking the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) along with the environment regulators for England and Wales to begin the process.

GDA is a process carried out by the ONR, the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales to assess the safety, security, and environmental protection aspects of a nuclear power plant design that is intended to be deployed in Great Britain. Successful completion of the GDA culminates in the issue of a Design Acceptance Confirmation from the ONR and a Statement of Design Acceptability from the EA.

For most applicants the costly and complex regulatory review takes about four years. The timeline cited by Rolls-Royce CEO Stein raises a question about how Rolls-Royce will do it in half that time. There has been no indication from the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation that it will give the firm any special treatment such as an accelerated review.

If Rolls-Royce is overly optimistic about the timeline to complete the GDA, and it takes the usual full four years, then the timeline to break ground with the FOAK unit and the schedule for the other 15 units will be delayed accordingly as a result. Confidence in the Rolls-Royce estimate of a two-year schedule to complete its GDA would be enhanced by a joint statement from the firm and the ONR has to how they plan to do it.  If there is an accelerated method for LWRs at ORN, it could apply to other applications for these types of reactors that follow Rolls-Royce. If not, then there’s egg on somebody’s face for setting up CEO Stein to make this claim.

A Rolls-Royce-led UK SMR consortium aims to build 16 SMRs. The consortium includes Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and TWI. It plans to build up to 10 by 2035 and the remaining six by the early 2040s.

Earlier this month the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a new Energy Security Strategy setting out plans for rapid expansion of nuclear power capacity, with eight new large reactors and SMRs helping to produce 24 GWe capacity by 2050, representing about 25% of the UK’s projected electricity demand by that date.

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Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Plans 1 MWt Transportable Reactor

The Nikkei Asia wire service reports that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI)is moving ahead with its plans to develop and commercialize nuclear microreactors,reactors small enough to be delivered on trucks. At 3 meters tall and 4 meters wide, the microreactors will weigh less than 40 tons. The reactor and power generating equipment will fit inside a standard 40′ cargo container. The reactor is rated at 1 MWt thermal and 0.5MWe electrical.

From an MHI presentation at a 2021 IAEA technical meeting.

mhi tractor smr

Based on an all-solid-state core concept, the microreactor uses a highly thermal conductive graphite-based material that removes heat from core without liquid coolant. The nuclear reactor core and all other equipment will be contained in tightly sealed capsule containers.

MHI is planning mock-up tests from 2023 to 2025 to verify the cooling function—i.e., the passive core cooling by natural heat transfer without power source, water source, and operator action. The tests will not use nuclear fuels.

After those tests, prototype testing is planned to be performed from 2026 to 2030 to verify various features of the microreactor such as long-term operation, start-up/shutdown, and safety system functions, including passive shutdown and containment. Deployment of commercial units is planned for the 2030s timeframe.

Fuel Choices

It is not clear what fuel type the reactor will use other than it will be HALEU, e.g., enriched to between 5-19% U235. Mitsubishi fabricates fuel for light water reactors (LWRs) and also mixed oxide fuels for LWRs and advanced fuel designs. According to MHI the fuel for this mini reactor will not require replacement during its entire duration of operations of approximately 25 years. Once the fuel is spent, the entire microreactor can be recovered.

In related actions, MHI is working on the construction of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, the key facility for Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle, and the Rokkasho MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant.

Heat Transfer System

The reactor design uses a solid state (graphene) core and uses CO2, in heat pipes, to drive the turbine. According to the US Department of Energy, supercritical carbon dioxide is a fluid state of carbon dioxide where it is held at or above its critical temperature and critical pressure.

Carbon dioxide usually behaves as a gas in air at standard temperature and pressure (STP) (STP), or as a solid called dry ice when frozen. If the temperature and pressure are both increased from STP to be at or above the critical point for carbon dioxide, it can adopt properties midway between a gas and a liquid.

At this state, sCO2 can be used efficiently throughout the entire Brayton cycle. (88F, 1000 PSI)  The use of CO2 to drive the turbine will provide greater efficiency in heat transfer from the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) than the conventional use of dry steam in LWRs.

sCO2

Estimated Costs

Since the mini reactors will require minimal maintenance, they can be installed underground to reduce risk from natural disasters and terrorism. At a projected cost of $6000/Kw, a 0.5 MWe reactor would cost just $3M. While the cost of electricity generated by the reactor will likely be higher than for a conventional light water reactor, it is estimated that it will be less than the cost of diesel fuel powered generators now used in remote areas

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DOE Seeks Applications, Bids for $6 Billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program

Funding Will Prevent At-Risk Nuclear Facilities from Premature Closure and Support President Biden’s Clean Energy Goals

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to seek applications and sealed bid submissions under the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program (CNC) to support the continued operation of U.S. nuclear reactors. The guidance directs owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down due to economic circumstances on how to apply for funding to avoid premature closure. This includes instructions on formulating and submitting sealed bids for allocation of credits.

This critical investment, made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help avoid premature retirements of reactors across the country due to financial hardship, preserve thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs to sustain local economies and protect our supply of carbon-free electricity generation.

“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035, and that includes prioritizing our existing nuclear fleet to allow for continued emissions-free electricity generation and economic stability for the communities leading this important work.”

The Biden-Harris Administration has identified the nation’s current fleet of reactors as a vital resource to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 which is a key deadline for reducing the harmful impacts of climate change. Shifting energy markets and other economic factors have resulted in the early closure of 12 commercial reactors across the United States since 2013.

This has led to a rise in emissions in those regions, poorer air quality, the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs, essential employers and financial contributors to local communities. The CNC program will equitably address these challenges while supporting the President’s clean energy goals to ensure that communities across the country continue to see the benefits of sustainable energy infrastructure.

The Diablo Canyon plant in California and the Palisades Plant in Michigan are two high profile cases of pending premature closure due to changing economic conditions. Green groups like the Sierra Club, which has a long history of anti-nuclear activism, complained to the Associated Press that spending $6 billion to prop up nuclear plants that are not economically viable will take away investment dollars from renewable energy projects.

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive officer of NEI, said she thinks the federal program will level the playing field for nuclear energy and help clear a path to pass even more intensive energy/climate policies.

As urged by many public commenters during the Request for Information (RFI) period earlier this year, the first CNC award cycle will assign priority to  reactors that have already announced their intention to cease operations. Future CNC award cycles — including for the second to be launched in the first quarter in FY2023 — will not be limited to nuclear reactors that have publicly announced their intentions to retire.

Information for Applicants

For the first CNC award period, DOE is accepting certification applications and bid as a single submission to implement the program on a more rapid timeline.

Think-Tank Calls For Widespread’ Deployment Of Advanced Reactors

(NucNet) The US should aim to double domestic nuclear energy production by 2050 to help achieve 100% clean energy with the widespread deployment of advanced reactors a crucial part of policy, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance think-tank says. Download the Report

fv niaThe Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) released its Fission Vision which is a blueprint for doubling U.S. nuclear energy production by 2050 to achieve 100% clean energy. The US-based NIA says advanced nuclear energy has the potential to greatly reduce carbon emissions by mid-century and help achieve 100% clean energy in the US.

Fission Vision calls for a focused national effort to develop, demonstrate and deploy the advanced nuclear technologies necessary to meet mid-century climate goals, support domestic energy production, create new jobs and tax revenue, and protect the nation’s global competitiveness. NIA said this promise can only be achieved with “the timely, efficient and widespread deployment of advanced reactors.”

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald provided the following statement on the release of NIA’s of Fission Vision:

“Significant development of advanced nuclear technologies is needed for the United States to reach mid-century climate goals. Fission Vision answers the question: What is the role advanced nuclear energy could play at a scale and at a pace to help provide safe, reliable and affordable clean energy? Fission Vision has three objectives

(1) Catalyzing a robust U.S. innovation and commercialization ecosystem;

(2) Ensuring “social license” to operate advanced nuclear energy, and

(3) Re-imagining and integrating advanced nuclear energy with other clean energy sources. If we can achieve these objectives – and we think we can – advanced reactors will play a major role in meeting our climate and energy goals by at least doubling U.S. nuclear energy production by 2050.”

The report warns that the US will need to rebuild the supply chain, complete nuclear projects on time and on budget, create incentives for deployment and enact policies that enable private investment.

According to the report, doubling domestic nuclear energy production from 800 TWh to at least 1,600 TWh by 2050 requires rapid and sustained deployment of advanced nuclear energy. Doubling domestic nuclear energy by 2050 requires constructing at least 100 GWe of new nuclear energy production in the next 30 years.

This deployment rate may seem daunting, the report notes, but nuclear energy has been constructed this quickly in the US before. Over 100 GW of light-water reactors were constructed between 1960 and 1990.

“The application of modern manufacturing and construction practices can help us meet or exceed historic nuclear energy deployment rates and enable the doubling of domestic nuclear energy production by 2050 using advanced nuclear energy,” Greenwald said

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DOD to Build & Test Project Pele Mini Reactor at INL

  • DOD to Build & Test Project Pele Mini Reactor at INL
  • Updates on BWXT Microreactor Design Project & TRISO Fuels
  • Moltex and SNC-Lavalin Announce Strategic Partnership
  • Canada’s Laurentis Signs Agreement with Fermi Energia on SMRs
  • South Korea is Making a U-Turn on Nuclear Energy
  • South Korea / SK Conglomerate ‘Considering Investment’ in TerraPower
  • Turkey / Ambitious Nuclear Energy Plans ‘May Not Be Enough’, Says Minister

DOD to Build & Test Project Pele Mini Reactor at INL

The Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) released a Record of Decision (ROD) for Project Pele, a program intended to design, build, and demonstrate a mobile microreactor.

SCO 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.

GAO DOD Mini Reactor

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.

“Thanks to the tireless work of the contract teams, the valuable input from local stakeholders, and the talented and experienced NEPA technical support teams at the Department of Energy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we are confident that an inherently safe by design mobile microreactor can be constructed and demonstrated safely at Idaho National Laboratory,” said Dr. Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager.

“Advanced nuclear power has the potential to be a strategic game-changer for the United States, both for the DoD and for the commercial sector. For it to be adopted, it must first be successfully demonstrated under real world operating conditions.”

In March 2020, Project Pele announced a Notice of Intent (NOI) to conduct an environmental analysis in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At the same time, SCO kicked off a two-year microreactor design competition. The NEPA process was conducted such that it would cover all possible reactor designs allowed under Pele’s technical requirements.

SCO Director Jay Dryer has released a ROD on construction and testing drawn from the analysis performed within a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), published in the Federal Register. The Record of Decision and the Environmental Impact Statement, as well as supporting documentation, are available online

SCO is considering engineering designs developed by two competing teams: BWXT Advanced Technologies, LLC, Lynchburg, Virginia; and X-energy, LLC, Greenbelt, Maryland. SCO said it has full confidence that both teams have developed reactor designs which can be constructed to meet SCO’s minimum technical requirements. However, only one design will be selected by DOD. An announcement on the award is expected later this spring.

The DOD uses approximately 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day — levels that are only expected to increase due to anticipated electrification of the non-tactical vehicle fleet and maturation of future energy-intensive capabilities. A safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that would not add to the DoD’s fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments.

As a High-Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR) using High-Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) Tristructural Isotropic (TRISO) fuel, Project Pele is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor, which can serve as a pathfinder for commercial adoption of such technologies, thereby reducing the nation’s carbon emissions and providing new tools for critical infrastructure support in military and civilian settings.

Project Pele is a whole-of-government effort, with critical expertise provided by the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

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.

“The DoD has a long history of driving American innovation, with nuclear power being one of many prominent examples,” said Mr. Jay Dryer, SCO Director. “Project Pele is an exciting opportunity to advance energy resilience and reduce carbon emissions while also helping to shape safety and nonproliferation standards for advanced reactors around the world.”

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Update on BWXT Microreactor Design Project

BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: BWXT) is proceeding to deliver microreactors to commercial power and industrial customers in cooperation with Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The company’s BANR (BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor) is a transportable microreactor using TRISO fuel and was selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). DOE is contributing $85.3 million to the cost-share project over seven years, with BWXT funding the remaining amount.

BWXT is focusing on aggressive cost reductions for deploying this transportable microreactor through performance improvements and lower delivery costs.  (NAS Briefing) (BWXT Fact Sheet)

Triso Fuel Update

Subsidiary BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC (BWXT AT) has finished its formal cost-sharing contracting negotiations with the DOE and is on track to deliver the first round of BANR’s TRISO fuel for testing at Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor in 2024 as scheduled.

Fuel testing at Idaho National Laboratory will provide important operational data on the performance of TRISO fuel particles. When complete, the project will have matured technologies related to key reactor safety systems in order to improve the overall economics for deployment.

This data is critical for approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and transition to deployment. BWXT AT is also partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the development of advanced modeling and simulation tools and manufacturing processes.

“We’re making a lot of progress in this program, and I’m very proud of the engineers and technicians who are keeping our reactor design and fuel development processes focused on deployment and stimulating demand in the advanced reactor market,” said Joe Miller, BWXT AT president. “Our collaboration with the national laboratories represents a longstanding commitment to delivering cutting-edge technologies that improve reactor performance and operation.”

About TRISO Fuel

TRISO refers to a specific design of uranium nuclear reactor fuel that can withstand extreme heat and has very low environmental risks. A single TRISO particle is tiny – about the size of the tip of a ball-point pen. Every TRISO particle carries its own layered containment system to protect the environment and the public. Thousands of these particles are pressed into ‘compacts’ similar in size to a tube of lip balm. BWXT is the only U.S. company to manufacture irradiation-tested uranium oxycarbide TRISO fuel using production-scale equipment.

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Moltex and SNC-Lavalin Announce Strategic Partnership

Moltex Energy Canada Inc. (Moltex) and SNC-Lavalin Group (TSX: SNC) announced a strategic partnership to advance clean nuclear energy. SNC-Lavalin, a fully integrated professional services and project management company with offices around the world, will support the development and deployment of Moltex’s innovative nuclear technologies.

moltex cutaway

Moltex will draw on SNC-Lavalin’s world-class network of experts in engineering, licensing and regulatory affairs, cost estimating, supplier qualification and management, quality assurance, and construction and operation planning. SNC-Lavalin will collaborate with Moltex to attract new customers and promote Moltex’s business goals.

“Canada and the world will need to explore all nuclear technology options to meet net zero commitments. Given the scale of the challenge, it is important that we work on the deployment of Gen III SMRs and grid-scale reactors and look to the future and support the development of Gen IV reactors. Moltex’s unique Gen IV molten salt design can not only help achieve net zero carbon, but it can also help to reduce nuclear waste,” said Joe St. Julian, President, Nuclear, SNC-Lavalin.

In addition, Mr. St. Julian has accepted a seat on the Moltex board of directors, where his experience and leadership will be greatly valued.

In March 2021 Moltex received $50.5M CDN funding from Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) to fund further development and commercialization of the company’s molten salt reactor and spent fuel recycling technology at a site in St. John, New Brunswick province.

About the Moltex Reactor

Moltex is a private company developing breakthrough nuclear technologies, including a Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner (SSR-W), which uses recycled nuclear waste as fuel; a Waste To Stable Salt (WATSS) process for recycling nuclear waste; and GridReserve thermal energy storage tanks that allow the reactor to complement intermittent renewables. Moltex is developing first-of-a-kind units for NB Power in New Brunswick, Canada, and intends to build further units across the country and abroad.

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Canada’s Laurentis Signs Agreement To Work With Fermi Energia on SMRs

Laurentis Energy Partners of Canada and Estonian energy company Fermi Energia have signed an agreement to work together to support the development of small modular reactors in Estonia. The two firms announced they will work to support their development of small modular reactors (SMRs) in Estonia. Femi Energia has signed MOUs with several other developers of SMRs but has not yet attracted sufficient investor interest to fund moving forward with any of them.

Laurentis, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), offers SMR services throughout the development lifecycle from feasibility and planning through construction, commissioning, operations, and sustainability solutions.

The aim is to develop an efficient and reliable SMR deployment program that will lead to successful licensing and financing of multiple SMR units in Estonia.

Estonia produces most of its energy from oil shale or imported power from neighboring countries. Since 2019, Fermi Energia has been exploring the possibility of developing and deploying a small modular reactor in Estonia to ensure a stable, clean, and reliable domestic electricity supply.

“OPG’s excellence as a nuclear energy utility and their selection of GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 to be deployed at Darlington is a world-leading SMR project,” said Kalev Kallemets, CEO of Fermi.

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South Korea Making a U-Turn on Nuclear Energy

(Wire Services) The transition committee working for President Yoon Suk-yeol said this week that the incoming government will embrace nuclear power in its decarbonization efforts, signaling a major shift in energy policy the outgoing Moon Jae-in government had said has no place for nuclear power.

Won Hee-ryong, chief policymaker setting out Yoon’s agenda, said Korea had seen more emissions and would see soaring electricity costs because of Moon’s push to phase out nuclear power, which makes up roughly a third of the country’s power.

“We need to put in a right, realistic and prudent plan to achieve carbon neutrality,” he said, suggesting that Moon’s strategy  had essentially backfired.

“So nuclear is back on the table along with every other technological tools that could help us cut carbon emissions,” said Kim Sang-hyup Kim, a committee member supporting Won.

Kim, the founder of the Coalition for Our Common Future, a foundation working on climate change, said Moon’s over reaching plan to have renewables account for 70%  of Korea’s power by 2050 poses a risk, as solar and wind power are not as reliable as nuclear power.

The transition committee said that the Yoon government, which begins work on May 10, will label nuclear energy “green” in its taxonomy, a list of climate-friendly activities the government approves, as early as August this year. The label change sets the direction of Korea’s energy policy.

The interest of South Korea’s heavy industries to participate in nuclear reactor export deals has been hampered by the anti-nuclear stance of the now outgoing government. Potential customers questioned the commitment of the country to potential deals if it wouldn’t support the technology at home.

South Korea is expected to bid on several opportunities including a new PWR in the Czech Republic at CEZ’s Dukovany site, and an upcoming  tender for two full size PWRs in Saudi Arabia. Currently, South Korea is completing the construction of four 1440 MWe PWRs in the United Arab Emirates. Two of the four units have been commissioned so far.

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South Korea / SK Conglomerate ‘Considering Investment’ in TerraPower

(NucNet) South Korean conglomerate SK Group said it is looking at an investment of up to 10% in the company that is developing a new generation nuclear power reactor.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that SK, which has interests in chemical and energy, had been in talks with TerraPower, which has chosen a site in Wyoming as the preferred location for its first Natrium small modular rector.

SK did not formally confirm it was in discussions with TerraPower, but said it had been reviewing a potential investment in next-generation nuclear technology in a bid to decarbonize its operations. If the investment occurs it would be SK Group’s first entry in the nuclear energy industry. In 2021 the firm made investments in hydrogen production in Asia.

TerraPower and GE-Hitachi technology are developing the Natrium reactor demonstration project in Wyoming. They are working to develop plans for a first unit with Rocky Mountain Power, a division of Wyoming’s largest utility PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. It was not reported whether TerraPower or its partners were aware of or had entered into preliminary discussions with SK Group.

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Turkey / Ambitious Nuclear Energy Plans ‘May Not Be Enough’, Says Deputy Minister

(NucNet) Turkey’s ambitious plans to build 12 large nuclear reactors at three sites might still not be enough as the country seeks to increase energy security and further reduce its imports of natural gas from Russia.

So far the country has only succeeded with development of one of the three sites where it plans to build the reactors. Japanese investors abandoned the Sinop project the Black Sea coast due to fears of cost overruns with an unproven reactor design  and efforts to come to terms with China at the Igneada in far northeast Turkey have been intermittent since 2016.

turkey nuclear

Turkey’s deputy energy and natural resources minister Alparslan Bayraktar told Nikkei Asia that the country needs more reactors because the 12 already under construction or planned “will not be enough if we consider the 2050-70s”.

He said Turkey is also considering the deployment of small modular reactors. He told Nikkei that Marisa Lago, the US Commerce Department’s undersecretary for international trade, and the new US ambassador to Turkey Jeffry Flake, visited him to discuss the potential introduction of SMR technology to Turkey. No specific commitments resulted from the meeting.

Turkey is building its first commercial nuclear station at Akkuyu, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, under a contract signed with Russia in 2010. Akkuyu will have four Generation III+ VVER-1200 units, with the first one expected to come online in 2023 and a further unit starting every year afterwards.

The total estimated cost of the project stands at $25 billion. Efforts by Roastom to acquire equity investments in the project by Turkish or other institutional investors have not panned out. The ownership of the project remains 100% in Russian hands.

In 2013, Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement with Japan to develop a second nuclear power station project at Sinop on the Black Sea. The status of the Sinop project remains unclear. In January 2020, Turkey was reported to have cancelled the agreement because feasibility studies did not meet the energy ministry’s expectations with regard to schedule and pricing. Also, previously Japanese investors pulled out of the project in 2018 because of fears of cost overruns that could occur building the unproven 1150 MWe Atmea PWR, which was a joint design of France’s Areva and Japan’s Mitsubishi.

third site turkeyThe International Energy Agency said in 2020 the Turkish government had started talks with other partners to develop the project. Neither the IEA nor the World Nuclear Association named the potential partners.

Between 2013 and 2020 several other nuclear reactor vendors held preliminary discussions with Turkey about the project, but none proceeded beyond the point of initial consideration.

Mr Bayraktar said Ankara is also negotiating with China to build two or four CAP1400 nuclear reactors at Igneada in the Thrace region of northwestern Turkey, close to the border with Bulgaria. Talks first began in 2016 but remain at the policy level and have not resulted in a more detailed development agreement.

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Tennessee Site Near ORNL Chosen for HALEU Fuel Facility

  • Tennessee Site Near ORNL Chosen for HALEU Fuel Facility
  • Third Way – Developing Domestic HALEU Supply
  • Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) Publishes A New Report on HALEU
  • Sen Manchin (D-Wv) Sen Risch (R-Id) The International Nuclear Energy Act Of 2022
  • Samsung and Seaborg Plan Molten Salt Floating Nuclear Power Barges
  • Space Allocated at Temelín for Future SMRs
  • Polish Miner KGHM Seeks Partnership with Romania’s Nuclearelectrica
  • UK’s First Light Fusion Announces Fusion Breakthrough

Tennessee Site Near ORNL Chosen for HALEU Fuel Facility

(WNN) (NucNet) A site in Oak Ridge, TN, has been selected as the site for the first commercial high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)-based fuel fabrication facility to be built in the US. Construction of the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3), is to begin this year, with commissioning and start-up expected as soon as 2025. The company has submitted a license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Triso fuel

The industrial park is not far from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory site where Triso-X parent company X-energy has already produced kilogram quantities of fuel through a public-private partnership.

The license application took about three years to develop, at a cost of almost $20 million.
The NRC’s review process is expected to take 24-36 months. TF3 would become the first 10 CFR 70 Category II licensed fuel facility in the USA.

The NRC review, and TRISO-X’s interactions with the regulator over this period, are part of X-energy’s cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). Andrew Griffith, US acting assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy, said the licensing milestone is “a critical step” towards achieving the program’s goals.

X-energy, which is developing the advanced Xe-100 reactor, announced it will initially produce 8 tonnes of fuel per year – enough to support about twelve Xe-100 small modular reactors. TRISO-X aims to expand the facility’s capacity from its initial 8 tonnes per year to 16 tonnes year by the early 2030s.

TF3 will use uranium enriched to less than 20% U235 to manufacture nuclear fuel products for a variety of advanced and small modular reactors, plus speciality fuels for space nuclear projects. The commercial facility’s cross-cutting design will enable manufacturing of fuel for other types of advanced or small nuclear reactors the need to use TRISO fuel.

3.31_HALEU Overview_742x960TF3 will also be used to continue to support government funded projects, such as mobile reactors for the military or space nuclear projects. TRISO-X is already operating two facilities at Oak Ridge: the TRISO-X Pilot Facility, located inside Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the TRISO-X Research and Development Center in the Centrus Technology Manufacturing Center. TF3 is projected to generate more than 400 jobs in the Oak Ridge area and attract some USD300 million of investment.

TRISO – tristructural isotropic – fuel particles consist of a “kernel” of 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. Fuel for

X-energy’s Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled modular reactor consists of spherical “pebbles” each embedded with 18,000 TRISO particles. Each fuel pebble is about the size of a billiard ball – around 6cm in diameter.

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Third Way – Developing Domestic HALEU Supply Spells Freedom from Russian Dependency

Key Takeaways

3rd way haleuRussia is currently the world’s only viable commercial supplier of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), the necessary fuel for many advanced nuclear power reactors rapidly emerging in the United States and the rest of the world.

Russia’s global monopoly on HALEU has been a serious concern for years, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the acute political risks and moral objections of relying on Russian HALEU supply. Third Way Report PDF file

Background to the Report

The US faces a major problem to achieve success with its efforts to design and commercialize advanced nuclear reactors. They will need high assay low enriched fuel (HALEU) , which is in the range of 5%-to-19% U235. Until recently, US firms got their from Russia which fabricated HALEU fuel elements and assemblies by downblending highly enriched uranium retrieved from decommissioned nuclear weapons.

That relationship is gone as a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions that have been placed on that country by the US and its NATO allies. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the “acute political risks and moral objections of relying on Russian HALEU supply,” as Third Way experts Alan Ahn and Ryan Norman write in a memo that demonstrates how developing HALEU in the US is critical to America’s leadership in nuclear energy.

“Developing a domestic capacity to manufacture HALEU fuel would make the U.S. more competitive in a fast-emerging area of the energy economy. It would also help re-establish American global leadership in nuclear energy, helping us meet our climate, clean energy, national security, and economic goals.”

Last month, the DOE’s HALEU program received $45 million from Congress in the FY2022 omnibus, an increase from the amount included in the Energy Act of 2020, but much more will be needed to fully fund the program’s activities.

Currently, the only federally funded supplier in the US, Centrus, based in Piketon, Ohio, employs 200 people. A commercial-scale-plant could provide good-paying jobs in local communities in the coming years.  The memo lays out the case for US leadership and policy recommendations to help achieve those goals.

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Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) Publishes A New Report on HALEU

nia coverThe Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) has released a new report, “Catalyzing a Domestic Commercial Market for High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU).”  (PDF file) This new publication describes the challenges and opportunities associated with development of a domestic commercial HALEU market and identifies potential policy options that can be used to catalyze market development.

It presents the changing near-term, mid-term, and long- term supply and demand conditions that must be included when developing federal programs to accelerate commercial market development.

NIA Executive Director Judi Greenwald highlighted the relevance of this work to ongoing efforts to create a reliable and robust fuel cycle for advanced reactors:

“A robust commercial market for High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) is critical to the successful deployment of advanced nuclear energy. A domestic supply of HALEU would help ensure fuel availability for advanced reactors and facilitate long-term investments in advanced nuclear energy. This report outlines the challenges and opportunities inherent in jumpstarting a domestic supply of fuel critical to the future of advanced reactors in the U.S.”

“Federal investment in HALEU fuel availability can kickstart market development and incentivize companies to make fuel cycle infrastructure investments to support the more rapid deployment of advanced nuclear energy. This work outlines the different policy options that can be used to meet the needs of HALEU fuel cycle stakeholders while providing the assurances needed to support the successful deployment of advanced reactors as a climate solution. We believe that these options can inform policymakers and the Department of Energy as they work to develop HALEU fuel availability programs.”

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Sen Manchin (D-Wv) Sen Risch (R-Id) Introduce The International Nuclear Energy Act Of 2022

Bipartisan legislation will promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of civil nuclear energy by reducing China and Russia’s influence on other nations’ civil nuclear energy programs. It is the  The International Nuclear Energy Act Of 2022

Short List of Intended Outcomes:

  • Establish an Office to coordinate civil nuclear exports strategy; establish financing relationships; promote regulatory harmonization; enhance safeguards and security;
  • Promote standardization of licensing framework; and create an exports working group.
  • Create programs to facilitate international nuclear energy cooperation to develop financing relationships, training, education, market analysis, safety, security, safeguards and nuclear governance required for a civil nuclear program.
  • Require two biennial summits, one focused on nuclear safety, security and safeguards, and another for civil nuclear vendors to enhance cooperative relationships between private industry and government.
  • Establish a Strategic Infrastructure Fund Working Group to determine how to best structure a Fund to finance projects critical to national security.
  • Create fast-track procedures for deemed civil nuclear exports for countries defined by the Secretary of Energy.
  • Expand the Export-Import Bank program on Transformational Exports to include civil nuclear facilities and related goods.
  • Create the U.S. Nuclear Fuels Security Initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate reliance on Chinese and Russian nuclear fuels.

To view the full text of the International Nuclear Energy Act, please click here.

Statement from Sen Manchin: “Our bipartisan bill establishes an Office for Nuclear Energy Policy to engage with our allies and industry partners to offset Chinese and Russian influence and reduce our reliance on nuclear fuels from these and other adversarial nations. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this critical legislation to help strengthen our energy security and further deny any nation the ability to weaponize energy against us and our allies.”

Statement from Sen Risch: “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has only highlighted the importance of energy security. This bill takes significant steps to re-establish American leadership in nuclear energy, both at home and abroad, which is critical to ensuring the security of energy supplies for ourselves and our allies, global standards for nonproliferation and other national security interests, and economic growth.”

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Samsung and Seaborg Plan Molten Salt Floating Nuclear Power Barges

(WNN contributed to this report) South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries is forming a partnership with Seaborg, a Danish start-up pursuing next-generation nuclear technologies, Together they plan to develop floating nuclear power plant barges using a compact Molten Salt Reactor (CMSR) technology developed by Seaborg.

seaborg flog molten
They believe the CMSR barges can be commercialized as an efficient power source in response to climate change and also can be harnessed to power the green production of hydrogen and ammonia.

Seaborg’s design is for modular CMSR power barges that can produce between 200 MWe and 800 MWe of electricity. The CMSR’s fuel is mixed in a liquid salt that acts as a coolant, which means that it will simply shut down and solidify in case of emergency.

The strategic partnership envisions a floating nuclear power plant that will be produced for customers as a turn-key product ready to be moored in an industrial harbor. Once floated to its mooring position in the harbor, a transmission cable will be connected to the electric grid onshore. The reactor and the barge will have a 24-year lifetime and be cost-competitive with other power solutions. When its service life is over, it will be towed away for decommissioning and replaced with a new plant.

Samsung said that it plans to develop an 800 MWe model of the floating reactor power plant within the next year by working with Seaborg. The firm will also conduct classification certification and develop commercial marketing plans. The timeline for Seaborg, which was founded in 2014, has been for commercial prototypes to be built in 2024 with commercial production of Power Barges beginning from 2026.

seaborg
In the second phase of the partnership, Samsung plans to expand the development and marketing to link the floating power plants with the development of hydrogen and ammonia production facilities. The stable production of energy also offers a fundamental basis for the production of all Power-2-X fuels, where especially hydrogen and ammonia are considered a future energy source to replace traditional fossil fuels, said Seaborg.

The concept is to place a hydrogen or ammonia production plant next to the floating nuclear power plant, utilizing the CO2-free fission energy to produce hydrogen and ammonia. The design of the hydrogen, ammonia, and power units will be optimized for efficient serial construction at Samsung’s shipyards.

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Space Allocated at Temelín for Future SMRs

(WNN) CEZ has set aside an area at the Temelín Nuclear Power Plant as a potential location for the Czech Republic’s first small modular reactor (SMR). It says the site will not impact on plans to build two more large-scale units.

ČEZ signed a Memorandum of Understanding on SMRs with NuScale in  2019.  It also has cooperation agreements with GE Hitachi, Rolls-Royce, EDF, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Holtec. Clearly, CEZ has not made up its mind which vendor has the best technology or the best deal.

The Czech Republic has six nuclear reactors – including two at Temelin – generating about one-third of the country’s electricity. With three new reactors planned, including two at Temelin, the aim is for nearly 60% of the country’s electricity to be from nuclear. A tender for a new 1200 MWe PWR at Dukovany was released last month.

Small modular reactors are defined by World Nuclear Assocation as generally 300 MWe equivalent or less, designed with modular technology using mobile factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction time.

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Polish Mining Company KGHM Seeks Partnership with Romania’s Nuclearelectrica

Polish metal mining company KGHM is preparing to enter into a partnership with Romania’s nuclear company Nuclearelectrica focused on development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR).

“Small nuclear reactors are one of KGHM’s priorities. Romania is a country that has been developing SMR projects and has been using nuclear energy for 30 years. We are initiating cooperation with Nuclearelectrica, a meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy, and a visit to the Cernavoda,” said the president of the Polish company, Marcin Chludzinski.

KGHM is a copper and silver producer with about EUR 5 billion in annual revenues.

In November, the US company NuScale, majority controlled by the Texan industrial conglomerate Fluor Corp., signed an agreement with Nuclearelectrica, the state operator of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant, under which Romania could develop the first plant based on small modular nuclear reactors in Europe.

Separately, several other Polish firms in the chemicals and also the mining sectors are pursuing deals to develop SMRs.

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UK’s First Light Fusion Announces Fusion Breakthrough

First Light Fusion (First Light), the UK based University of Oxford fusion spin-out, announced that it had achieved fusion and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) independently validated the result. This is the first time fusion has been achieved using the unique targets developed by First Light, and the corresponding projectile technology.

To deliver this fusion result, First Light used its large two-stage hyper-velocity gas gun to launch a projectile at a target, containing the fusion fuel.

flash“The projectile reached a speed of 6.5 km/sec (23,400 km/hr) before impact. First Light’s highly sophisticated target focuses this impact, with the fuel accelerated to over 70 km/sec as it implodes, an increase in velocity achieved through the firm’s proprietary advanced target design, making it the fastest moving object on earth at that point.”

First Light’s power plant design involves the target being dropped into the reaction chamber and the projectile launched downwards through the same entrance, so it catches up with and impacts the target at the right moment.

The impact is focused and amplified by First Light’s advanced target technology, and a pulse of fusion energy is released. That energy is absorbed by the lithium flowing inside the chamber, heating it up. The flowing liquid protects the chamber from the huge energy release, sidestepping some of the most difficult engineering issues in other approaches to fusion. Finally, a heat exchanger transfers the heat of the lithium to water, generating steam that turns a turbine and produces electricity.

First Light’s equipment is relatively simple, built in large part from readily available components. First Light believes this approach accelerates the journey towards commercial fusion power as there is a large amount of existing engineering that can be reused to realize its proposed plant design.

A peer reviewed analysis  conducted by First Light shows that projectile fusion offers a pathway to a very competitive Levelized Cost Of Energy (LCOE) of under $50/MWh, directly competing on cost with renewables. First Light said it has achieved fusion having spent less than £45 million ($58.5m).

UK Business & Energy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said: “First Light Fusion’s British-born technology could potentially revolutionize power production in the coming decades. That is why this government is investing in UK science and innovation, ensuring that we remain at the forefront of the global scientific endeavor to make safe, clean, limitless fusion energy a reality.”

First Light is working towards a pilot plant producing around 150MWe and costing less than $1 billion in the 2030s. First Light is working with UBS Investment Bank to explore strategic options for the next phase of its scientific and commercial development.

First Light Chairman Bart Markus said: “Fusion must show it is more than an expensive science experiment, but that it can be a commercial solution to the challenge of producing baseload clean energy.”

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