TerraPower to Leave China, but Bill Gates is Still in the Game

  • terrapower_logo_black_hi_res (2)Billionaire Bill Gates took one step back and put one foot forward this week. He announced that TerraPower, the firm in which he is a major investor, will pull out of its plan to build a prototype of its Traveling Wave advanced reactor in China.
  • Also, he wrote in a widely distributed email letter that he plans to do more in 2019 to promote the use of nuclear energy to address the challenge of climate change.

TerraPower Pulls Out of China Joint Venture

TerraPower, a nuclear energy startup which includes Bill Gates as one of its key investors, has been forced to cancel its plans to spend $ 1 billion to build a half-size prototype of its advanced design nuclear reactor in China. It is unclear whether the firm will look for a new partner in the U.S., or elsewhere, to conduct early-stage trials of its reactor technology.

TerraPower’s chief financial officer, Marcia Burkey said in a statement to the news media that October’s announcement of the new export restrictions caught the company “by complete surprise.”

The decision to end the work in China follows a new set of U.S. government rules on export of nuclear technology to China. The rules were issued in October 2018 in response to repeated instances by China of stealing intellectual property related to nuclear energy from U.S. firms.

TerraPower formally set up an agreement with state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in 2013 to build its first of a kind half size version of its Traveling Wave reactor. The design is unique in that it is based on the use of depleted uranium to run the reactor.

“We had hoped to build a pilot project in China, but recent policy changes here in the US have made that unlikely,” Gates wrote in a blog post.

He said TerraPower may be able to build it in the US, but qualified that idea with two caveats. The first is that federal funds would be available and the second is changes are made in the way the NRC conducts safety evaluation design reviews of advanced reactors.

“We’re regrouping,” Chief Executive Chris Levesque told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. “Maybe we can find another partner.”

As a practical matter neither of Gates’ preconditions is likely to be resolved anytime soon. DOE has been releasing funds for work on SMRs and advanced reactor technologies, but not on the scale that TerraPower would need, e.g., $ 1 billion or more, to build the first prototype.

New legislation requires the NRC to make changes in the way it reviews advanced nuclear reactor designs, but it will take some time, perhaps several years, for the agency to develop  the technical and regulatory basis for implementing these changes.

History of the China Venture

In 2017 TerraPower  came to an agreement with CNNC was to form a joint venture company that would complete the design of the travelling wave reactor  and commercialize the technology. The firm, Global Innovation Nuclear Energy Technology Company Ltd, was expected to not only build a first of a kind prototype (FOAK), but also to offer the full size design for export.

Unlike traditional nuclear reactors, this technology will be capable of utilizing fuel made from depleted uranium, which is currently a waste byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. Its unique design gradually converts the fuel through a nuclear reaction without removing it from the reactor’s core, eliminating the need for reprocessing, generating heat and producing electricity over a much longer period of continuous operation.

Additionally, eliminating reprocessing reduces proliferation concerns, lowers the overall cost of the nuclear energy process, and helps to protect the environment by making use of a waste byproduct and reducing the production of greenhouse gases.

Gates to Advocate for Nuclear Energy in 2019

While Bill Gates as an investor has had to take a step back in terms of developing an advanced nuclear reactor design, he remains a strong advocate for nuclear energy.

Gates said, “Next year I will speak out more about how the U.S. needs to regain its leading role in nuclear power research. He noted this work will be separate from his foundation activities.

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day. The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.”

“The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital.”

“Unfortunately, America is no longer the global leader on nuclear energy that it was 50 years ago. To regain this position, it will need to commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious.”

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change,” Gates says in his letter, “because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.”

He adds that “problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.”

Gates wrote that nuclear power has to play a significant role in America’s energy use due to concerns about climate change. He pointed out  that global emissions of greenhouse gases have resumed their upward trend.

“For me, that just reinforces the fact that the only way to prevent the worst climate-change scenarios is to get some breakthroughs in clean energy.”

Gates said utilities should take advantage of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power “wherever it makes sense.”

“But solar and wind are intermittent, and we are unlikely to have super-cheap batteries anytime soon that would allow us to store sufficient energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. ”

The clear message is that if the nation wants to decarbonize the electricity sector, it needs nuclear energy to keep the grid stable and the lights on.

TerraPower’s Work on a Molten Salt Reactor Design

The end of the work on the Traveling Wave reactor in China is not the end of TerraPower’s work on advanced nuclear reactor technologies.  TerraPower is working on a molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR) project

The MCFR project has the potential to be a relatively low-cost reactor that can operate safely in new temperature regimes. This means the technology can do more than generate electricity; it also offers potential in alternative markets, such as process heat and thermal storage.mcfr design image

The MCFR design is a type of molten salt reactor (MSR). MSR experiments were conducted in the 1960s, and modern computing power, materials and engineering developments enable the revival of new research and development of MSR technology.

TerraPower said in  a statement on its website that integrating new reactor options into a diversified fleet can bring high-quality, carbon-free energy to heavy industry users, such as water treatment plants, refineries and chemical processors.

TerraPower’s research and development of the MCFR project has already expanded into design and testing activities. In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a five-year, $40 million cost share award for continued research and development into TerraPower’s MCFR project.

This award served as the impetus for a new public-private MCFR project development partnership that includes TerraPower, the Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute and Vanderbilt University.

Japan Council Approves Plans To Continue
Fast Reactor Development

(NucNet): A government council has approved plans for Japan to continue with the development of fast reactors, although they are not likely to be fully commercialized and in use until the second half of the century, industry group the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (Jaif) said.

The plans were approved by the council on fast reactor development, part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The plans, initially drawn up by the council’s working group, say Japan could use the experimental fast reactor Joyo, and various facilities overseas, to acquire the technical knowledge that would have been obtained from the prototype Monju fast breeder reactor, which suffered a number of safety setbacks and has been designated for decommissioning.

Joyo, a sodium-cooled fast reactor operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), is in Ibaraki Prefecture, eastern Japan.

According to an outline schedule, starting in 2024, the national government, the JAEA and Japan’s power utilities, in cooperation with manufacturers, will narrow down the fast breeder technologies that can be used.

The government will be responsible for ascertaining their political feasibility, JAEA will accumulate the necessary technical expertise, and utilities will determine the prospects for commercialization.

Fast breeder reactors, which are being explored or constructed in Japan, France, India, Russia and China, allow a significant increase in the amount of energy obtained from natural, depleted and recycled uranium. The technology also enables plutonium to be used and recycled several times, and minor actinides to be recycled.

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Posted in Nuclear | 7 Comments

2018 Retrospective: Top 12 Posts Based on Reader Interest

spent-fuel-storage.pngIt is a temptation for publishers of blogs to offer their views on what constitutes the big stories of the year. The model is the endless stream of talking heads on cable news networks doing the same thing.

This blog is taking a different approach.  The following listing of the top 12 stories is based on reader interest as indicated by total page views recorded by WordPress which hosts this blog.

There is a lot of variety in the list which indicates, at least to me, that readers have a wide range of interests and are not settled into a niche nor are they fans of one particular type of technology.  That’s been the trend during the past 11 years I’ve been blogging about nuclear energy. It looks like it will continue.

Top 12 Articles for 2018 in Order 1-12

India Slashes Plans for New Nuclear Reactors by Two-Thirds
Posted on April 6, 2018

The Financial Express, one of India’s major newspapers, reports that the Narendra Modi government, which had set the ambitious 63,000 MW nuclear power capacity addition target by the year 2031-32, has cut it to 22,480 MW, or by roughly two thirds.
Note to Readers: This article was cross posted with permission and is among the top 10 for 2018, #7, at the Energy Post site in the EU.

In related coverage Aug 14, 2018:  India Doubles Down on 700 MW PHWR Design

Recent Developments in Advanced Reactors in China, Russia
Posted on January 7, 2018

  • China Reported to Commit $3 billion to Development of Molten Salt Reactor Designs
  • China Begins Construction of a 600 MW Fast Reactor
  • Update on China’s HTGR, and an MOU with Saudi Arabia
  • Taishan 1 EPR Startup Delayed to 2018
  • Russia to Build Fast Reactor Fuel Plant for Brest-OD-300 Reactor.

First Energy Files for Bankruptcy; To Close 4 Nuclear Reactors
Posted on April 1, 2018

Late on March 31st, while most of the country was sleeping, First Energy filed for bankruptcy protection. The unsecured creditor with the most exposure is Bank of New York Mellon Trust ($1 billion). The BNSF Railway is owed $72 million. The decision comes just one day before a $100 million bond pay was due. The utility made a decision to file for bankruptcy rather than make the payment.

NRC Says NuScale SMR Won’t Need Backup Electrical Power
Posted on January 12, 2018

  • The regulatory agency’s decision is a first for light water reactors and may set a precedent for future LWR type SMRs with similar designs
  • NuScale responds to questions from this blog about the NRC finding
  • NEI’s CEO applauds the NRC decision

A Reader on Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Energy Program
Posted on May 13, 2018

The practical logistical challenges and the financial commitments that would be required to build 16 1000 MW, or larger, nuclear reactors over less than a decade are simply out of reach. Why is no one at these media outlets fact checking the prevailing narrative?

In the interest doing exactly that, I’ve assembled a “reader” of my coverage on the efforts by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to pursue development of a commercial nuclear energy program.  For good measure, I’ve also looked at what I see as a somewhat hollow threat to enrich uranium. This is something that KSA should neither want, need, nor can it afford.

Here are seven easy to read pieces, no technical background required, that explain why the current mass media narrative about KSA and nuclear energy misses a few crucial facts.  Coverage on this blog about KSA’s nuclear energy plans began in 2014.

China to start building 6-8 new nuclear reactors in 2018
Posted on April 2, 2018 b

China’s National Energy Administration said in March that the country will announce sites for the start of new construction of six-to-eight new nuclear reactors. The decision ends a two-year freeze on new starts.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) China’s 13th Five-Year Plan formalized in March 2016 included the following nuclear projects and aims:

  • Complete four AP1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang.
  • Build demonstration Hualong One reactors at Fuqing and Fangchenggang
  • Start building the demonstration CAP1400 reactor at Rongcheng (Shidaowan)
  • Accelerate building Tianwan Phase III (units 5&6)
  • Start building a new coastal power plant
  • Active preparatory work for inland nuclear power plants
  • Each target of 58 GWe nuclear operational by end of 2020, plus 30 GWe under construction then
  • Accelerate and push for building demonstration and large commercial reprocessing plants.

Terrestrial Energy Plans Molten Salt Project for Idaho
Posted on April 1, 2018

Terrestrial Energy USA, an affiliate of the parent firm in Canada,  and Energy Northwest have announced that they have reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the terms of the possible siting, construction and operation of an Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) power plant at one of its candidate sites, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in southeastern Idaho.

This blog first reported the firm’s interest in the Idaho lab site in January 2017.

Egypt’s $60 Billion Bet on Nuclear Energy
Posted on April 22, 2018

It is one of the largest nuclear energy deals (4800 MW) inked so far this century and is similar in scale as a project in terms of electricity generation capacity to the four 1400 MW units being built by South Korea in the UAE

Assuming these two projects, and a 4800 MW project in Turkey, are finished by the end of the decade, new nuclear capacity in the Middle East will total 11,000 MW of electrical generation capacity.

Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” is reported to have signed contracts with Egypt for construction of four 1200 MW VVER type nuclear reactors, the company’s chief announced this month.

Mexico Signs a 123 Agreement with U.S.
Posted on June 3, 2018

The Federal government has sent to Congress a long awaited 123 Agreement with Mexico which, if approved, will open the door for U.S. firms to export nuclear reactor technologies to that country  under 10 CFR 810.  Once in place the agreement has a nominal shelf life of 30 years although it can be updated by either party.

Plans for new 1000 MW BWRs are in place, but no construction commitments are likely in the near term due to the low price of natural gas

The 123 Agreement replaces a previous multilateral agreement made through the IAEA. Congress has 90 days to review the new 123 agreement

Mexico has plans to commission new reactors, but has not settled on designs or vendors.

U.S. Navy Sets Plans to Upgrade Idaho Spent Fuel Facility
Posted on October 8, 2016

The Naval Reactors facility needs a new wet storage facility to cool off spent fuel from its nuclear propulsion program.

The Associated Press reported Oct 3rd that the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy want to build a $1.6 billion facility at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho that would handle fuel waste from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships through at least 2060.

According to the wire service, the new facility would be built at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s primary lab for commercial nuclear energy research.

Argonne’s IFR to Live Again at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick
Posted on July 15, 2018

ARC Nuclear and New Brunswick Power (NB Power)  have agreed to work together to take the necessary steps to develop, license, and build an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) based on ARC Nuclear’s Gen IV sodium-cooled fast reactor technology.

In a separate second announcement, the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation  announced the participation of Moltex Energy in the nuclear research cluster that will work on research and development on small modular reactor technology based on molten salt technology.

~ Readership in 2018 ~

Total readership in 2018 was on par with the numbers in 2017 except a bit lower. As of 12/28/18 the blog had just over 45,000 visitors for the year and just over 75,000 page views. One of the reasons for the slightly lower level of readership is that in 2017 there were 97 posts and in 2018 just 72 due to other commitments.

Note that many of the “top 12” posts have publication dates earlier in the year rather than later. This is due to the fact that after the first round of readers who are current in following content on the blog, there is a continuous stream of readers who find posts from search engine results or links elsewhere on the Internet. It follows that posts published in the last third of this year could be top posts on 2019.

However, in 2018 readers spent more time on the blog reading more posts per visit than in 2017. Is less more? In 2019 the pace of publication will continue in the range of 70-90 posts per year. It depends on what is worth writing about that will be of interest to readers.

The blog is syndicated at Nuclear Street and at the Energy Collective.  Readership at the revived Energy Collective, now hosted by Energy Central, is sometimes significantly higher there on an article by article basis.  Selected articles also appear, with permission, on the Brussels based Energy Post.EU blog.  Links to articles from this blog are posted on Reddit in r/NuclearPower.

In terms of where readers come from, 84% of readers are in the U.S. The top ten countries that show up in location data for visitors are listed below in order 1-10.

  • U.S.
  • Canada
  • U.K
  • India
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • France
  • South Korea
  • Japan

Thanks to all my readers for your interest. I hope you will continue to find this blog to be a valuable source of nuclear news in 2019.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Congress Passes an Ambitious Plan for Nuclear Energy R&D


Graphic courtesy of Third Way

First of all the new law establishes a broad and sweeping mandate for civilian nuclear energy R&D and technology development toward commercial deployment. Its provisions include;

  1. Provide research infrastructure to promote scientific progress and enable users from academia, the National Laboratories, and the private sector to make scientific discoveries relevant for nuclear, chemical, and materials science engineering; and
  2. Enable the private sector to partner with the National Laboratories to demonstrate novel reactor concepts for the purpose of resolving technical uncertainty associated with the aforementioned objectives.

Advanced Reactor R&D

The think tank Third Way has tallied 78 other advanced nuclear reactor projects in North America as of November 2018. The new law creates a mandate which is now underway as a programmatic effort to develop a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source, which shall operate as a national user facility.

The user facility will provide at a minimum:

  • Fast neutron spectrum irradiation capability, and
  • Capacity for infrastructure and facility upgrades to accommodate new or expanded research needs. It adds a focus on high-performance computation modeling and simulation techniques.

Perhaps even more important, the bill establishes a program to enable the testing and demonstration of advanced reactor concepts to be proposed and funded by the private sector.

Even more interesting are the provisions that authorize construction and operation of privately funded experimental reactors at national laboratories or other DOE-owned sites.  The purpose, of course, is to carry out the physical validation of advanced nuclear reactor concepts.

NRC Collaboration

For years DOE and the nuclear industry developed reactor technologies and then tossed them over the transom to the NRC for safety evaluation reviews. This transactional relationship is amended by the new law directing DOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NRC in order to share technical expertise and knowledge. This is is really a big deal because the two agencies have a lot they can do to help each other with their respective missions.

Here’s a summary of the areas in which collaboration is required by the new law

  • Testing and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactor concepts to be proposed and funded by the private sector,
  • Operating a database to store and share data and knowledge relevant to nuclear science and engineering between federal agencies and the private sector,
  • Developing and testing electric and nonelectric integration and energy conversion systems relevant to advanced nuclear reactors,
  • Leveraging expertise from the NRC respecting safety analysis, and enabling the technical staff of the NRC to actively observe and learn about technologies developed under such testing and demonstration program.
  • The NRC and DOE are also directed to set up another MOU to review the skill mix and technical capabilities of their respective work forces.

A third policy mandate for an MOU between the two agencies called for collaborative work on the use of computers and software codes to calculate the behavior and performance of advanced nuclear reactors, and that the NRC has access to use these facilities.  This provision will likely bring advanced computational facilities operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) into the picture.

Note that the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act requires the NRC to change the way it charges for safety reviews of advanced reactors and to make the review process more efficient and less costly. The legislation directs the NRC to create a licensing process for advanced reactors that is less prescriptive, the idea being it will result in faster approvals. Currently, it takes 42 months, at a minimum, for the NRC to complete the safety evaluation review of a new reactor design.

Money Needed for People, Places, and Things

The bill goes a long way towards fulfillment of a items on a “wish list” that the nuclear industry has been working on for years. The big hurdle is going to be how to pay for all the items on it.

In the new law Congress directed DOE to come up with two budget scenarios. The first is flat funding based on the 2016 appropriation, and the other one is a “skies the limit” scenario which in federal budget talk is an “unconstrained” scenario.

Getting the right level of funding, and making sure the Idaho Lab, and other national labs, can get the work done, is going to be a big challenge for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.  A key item is going to be recruitment of the technical expertise needed to do all the things Congress wants DOE to accomplish at the lab.  Facility upgrades are going to be needed sitewide at INL and in town for transportation, power, and labs and offices to do the work.

Similarly, as other national labs are drawn into carrying out the legislative mandates of the new law, there needs to be coordination among the various DOE offices involved in managing these labs to insure the funding shows up to get the work done.

For instance, the Office of Science, which is a major funding source for Oak Ridge National Lab, will need to ask for money to pay for the use of the lab’s world class super computing capabilities to carry out the simulation and related computer analyses of new reactor designs and their requirements for fuels to run them.

In other words, getting the R&D money is one thing, having the people and places to do it is another. If DOE wants to make the INL a success, it must ask for money for these things as well as for the R&D work scope.

Here’s a bit of arcane “inside the beltway” budgeting issue. In terms of the innovative ideas for MOUs between DOE and the NRC, while DOE gets its money from line items in its massive appropriation, $34 billion, the NRC relies almost entirely on reimbursement of its regulatory activities by nuclear plants, developers, and manufacturers and users of radioactive isotopes. These fees can’t be reprogrammed to cover the new work scope involving the requirements laid out by Congress for MOUs with DOE.

For this reason, Congress will need to provide funds as a line item in NRC’s appropriation to do this work. The agencies will cost share to implement the MOUs, but the NRC needs to be able to put cash on the table, and that money has to come from Congress not the regulated industry.

Cost Share Grants

Once DOE gets its money, or at least some of it, Congress wastes no time in telling the agency how to spend to help nuclear energy entrepreneurs. It calls for DOE to establish an Advanced Nuclear Energy Cost-Share Grant Program. This is very similar to the current GAIN program at the INL.

While GAIN is focused on technology development, a key provision is to make cost share grants to developers of advanced nuclear energy reactor designs to fund a portion of the applicant’s NRC fees for pre-application and application review activities.  Another title for this section might be “don’t bankrupt the investors teaching the NRC about their new technologies at $300/hr.”

Grant recipients will be able to use their grant funds to cover NRC fees, including those associated with developing a licensing project plan, obtaining a statement of licensing feasibility, reviewing topical reports, other pre-application and application review activities, and ongoing interactions with the NRC.

That covers a lot of ground, and not having this kind of support has been a major sore point with the new class of private sector nuclear energy entrepreneurs. It’s just about the best Christmas present they could get this year.

What’s Ahead in 2019?

Several other pieces of nuclear energy related legislation were moving through congress prior to the holiday break. The Morning Consult has a good summary of these bills, what’s in them, and what it all may mean for the industry in 2019.

Reporter Jacqueline Toth writes that experts say it’s not a certainty that Congress will enact or fund nuclear technology and research and development to the extent necessary to get new concepts to market or to more explicitly link investments in nuclear energy to climate change legislation.

She talked with  Craig Piercy, the Washington representative for the American Nuclear Society (ANS) who said, “2019 will be a year of building on our past progress.” In other words, don’t expect the new law to enable nuclear energy developers to be able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  Incremental progress is a more likely outcome.

John Kotek, vice president of policy development and public affairs with the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, agrees. He said the industry continues “to see investments in the private sector in getting those technologies through the licensing process and into the market.”

However, despite these cautiously optimistic views,  Hal Harvey, CEO of the policy firm Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy and environmental policy firm, told the Morning Consult he is skeptical that lawmakers would direct as much funding toward nuclear energy as the new generation of reactors requires.

“The private sector’s not going to invest in nuclear power in a meaningful way,” Harvey said because the operating costs of existing plants are not cost-competitive. With a nod to the failure of the V C Summer project he noted a key barrier is that the financing, construction and operational risks are so high.

Where the billions of dollars will come from to move new reactor designs from the drawing table to commercial success is a big problem Harvey said.

“I appreciate the gall with which people do private sector startups, but they’re all going to go off a cliff without public support,” he said.

Harvey’s group is composed of some very smart people in the energy field so his agnostic views on how things might turn out for the current crop of nuclear energy entrepreneurs should be taken seriously. The experience of Transatomic may not be the last in this category.

See prior coverage on this blog – the Case for a Nuclear Energy Investment Bank

The outlook for additional legislative efforts to link nuclear energy investment to dealing with climate change remain uncertain. The Morning Consult polled a number of legislative offices all of whom were “noncommittal” about what might happen in 2019.

DOE to Buy Power from NuScale’s Idaho Plant

NuScale, the developer of a 50MW small modular reactor (SMR), and its customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), for the reactor to be build in Idaho, got some very good news this past week.

DOE has signed off on a plan to use some of the power generated by the Idaho-based SMRs for R&D work to be carri4ed out by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Conveniently, the 12 SMRs that will be built by NuScale for customers in Idaho will be located on a site in the southwestern corner of the 890 square mile federal reservation. The plan ties together the agency, the Battelle Energy Alliance, the contractor that manages INL, and UAMPS.

One of the 12 modules will be used for “integrated energy systems that support the production of both electricity and non-electric energy products,” DOE said in a news release. It will be called the Joint Use Modular Plant, or JUMP. And a second module will supply power to INL.

According to the Idaho Falls Post Register, INL Director Mark Peters said in an email, “Not only will this first-of-its-kind technology be located on the INL site, but it also will provide power to the laboratory while enabling valuable research,”

He also told the newspaper, “This is exciting to all of us at INL and an excellent example of how private-public partnerships will allow for the demonstration and delivery of advanced nuclear energy systems.”

The agreement sets up DOE and UAMPS work with Idaho Power to make sure it can draw enough power from the project to supply it to INL. The lab expects to need up to 70 megawatts of power in the 2025-2030 time frame.

“This agreement will allow DOE to meet its needs in the form of resilient power to a national security mission-based lab while drawing from our nation’s newest class of advanced reactors,” said Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, in the DOE press release.

UAMPS told the Post Register that  the deal demonstrates DOE’s “high degree of overall support its Carbon Free Power Project for and confidence in” the project. The deal will increase the overall subscription in the plant by 120 megawatts, bringing it closer to the 720-megawatt use goal (Six 50 MW SMRs)

NuSclae’s SMR is going through government regulatory and safety design reviews at the NRC. Construction is expected to start in the mid-2020s. The SMR is based on conventional light water reactor technologies but has many advanced design ideas incorporated in it.

~ Other Nuclear News ~

Idaho Test Reactor will Assess Accident Tolerant Fuels

The Associated Press (AP) reports that  the Transient Test Reactor  is a key element of the DOE effort to revamp the nuclear power industry with safer fuel designs and a new generation of power plants.

The reactor at the U.S. Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has performed 10 tests on nuclear fuel since late last year.

J.R. Biggs, Manager of the reactor located at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) told the AP, “If we’re going to have nuclear power in this country 20 or 30 years from now, it’s going to be because of this reactor.,”

Test work on nuclear technologies and fuels is part of a strategy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by generating carbon-free electricity.

Biggs notes that one of the roles of the reactor is to help develop accident tolerant fuels designed to safely shut themselves down in an emergency

Dan Wachs, who directs the lab’s fuel safety research program, told the AP only three other reactors with fuel testing abilities exist — in France, Japan and Kazakhstan. He said none can perform the range of experiments that can be done at the Idaho lab’s Transient Test Reactor, also called TREAT. The reactor is located on the grounds of the lab’s Materials Fuels Complex about 25 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID.

The strategy is to test the fuels under accident conditions, including controlled and contained meltdowns, to eventually create safer fuels. A reporter from the wire service visited the the lab’s Hot Fuel Examination Facility, where workers behind 4 feet (1.2 meters) of leaded glass examine them.

Additional work, AP noted, is done a short walk away at the Irradiated Materials Characterization Lab, where powerful microscopes can examine the fuel at the atomic level.

Wachs and his team of about 15 scientists get the results and consult with both the fuel manufacturer and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which licenses nuclear fuel.

He pointed out to the AP reporter that nuclear energy has been identified by U.S. officials as having a key role in reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Nuclear is a primary way to get there,” said Wachs. “It’s really the only way to get there.”

Terrestrial Energy Contracts With BWXT Canada for
Development of Key IMSR Power Plant Components

Terrestrial Energy announced this week that it has signed on BWXT Canada Ltd. (BWXT Canada) for a design services contract to support development of key components in Terrestrial Energy’s Generation IV Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) power plant.

Under the agreement, BWXT Canada will provide Terrestrial Energy with technical consultation and design assistance for development of steam generators and heat exchangers, components that connect power generation sytems to the plant’s innovative Generation IV advanced reactor.

“We’re very pleased to have been selected by Terrestrial Energy to support their reactor development,” said President of BWXT Canada John MacQuarrie.

“We look forward to applying our expertise in nuclear component design and manufacturing to help advance Terrestrial Energy’s exciting new reactor technology.”

“Steam generators and heat exchangers are critical components of any power plant, and the IMSR is no exception. We identified this work early in our development as important to achieve a practical and efficient design that can be deployed quickly, and we are fortunate to be able to engage with BWXT Canada’s world-class expertise in these areas,” said Simon Irish, Chief Executive Officer of Terrestrial Energy.

Terrestrial Energy said in its press statement that it is on a path to commission first IMSR power plants in the 2020s. The agreement between Terrestrial Energy and BWXT Canada sets the framework for the companies’ long-term collaboration.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

EDF’s Flagship EPR Enters Revenue Service in Taishan

  • The first Areva/EDF European Pressurized reactor (EPR), a 1650MW commercial plant, is now in revenue service in Taishan, China, located about 136Km west of Hong Kong.
  • Power was sent to the grid this week following extensive testing. World Nuclear News reported that Taishan 1 completed a full-power continuous demonstration test run of 168 hours.
taishan EPRs

Taisahn EPRs. Image Courtesy World Nuclear News

The Taishan project was launched on November 26, 2007, and was initially expected to generate power by 2013. The cost of the project was not announced via reports published in English language Chinese news media.

Given the five years added to the original schedule, the cost per kilowatt probably came in significantly higher for the more complicated GEN III design than for older Chinese plants such as the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Shenzhen which was a legacy Framatome design.

A second EPR reactor is expected to come online at the plant next year. Work began on Unit 2 in 2010. The Taishan power station is a joint venture between China General Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France (EDF).

Guo Limin, general manager of the joint venture, told the South China Morning Post that the company had learned from the delays and would apply that knowledge to the construction of the second reactor.

“The EPR has increased its safety standards with equipment grades,” Guo said.

“Actually, some of the equipment we have used, although it is from the same factory, are not typical parts. The development process for new equipment takes some time, and it takes repeated processes.”

He said delays had also been caused by changes in design of key components and systems.

WNN notes that Taishan 1 and 2 are the first two reactors based on the EPR design to be built in China. They are part of an EUR8 billion (USD9 billion) contract signed by Areva and CGN in November 2007. The Taishan project is owned by the Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Limited, a joint venture between EDF (30%) and CGN.

These two units are the third and fourth EPR units under construction globally, after the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland and the Flamanville 3 project in France. The EPR design adopted in Taishan was developed by Framatome.

CGN began loading fuel assemblies into Unit 1’s core last April. The reactor achieved first criticality in June and was connected to the grid by the end of that month. Taishan 2, which is in the equipment installation phase, is scheduled to begin operating next year.

Plans for EPRs for UK are Underway

EDF is also building two EPRs in the UK. Under a strategic investment agreement signed in October 2016, CGN agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C project in Somerset.

A tie-in to that contract is a plan to jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.

The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France’s EPR reactor technology. The new plant at Bradwell in Essex will feature China’s Hualong One design. That reactor is part way through the UK Generic Design Review which assesses the safety of the design and its environmental risks.

Status of Other EPRs

Olkiluoto 3, the first-of-a-kind EPR, has completed hot functional tests and is preparing to load fuel, while fuel loading at the Flamanville EPR is scheduled to begin by the end of this year. Delays have plagued both projects and the plant in Finland recently pushed back its start up date due to issues with its operational readiness review.

At one time Areva, before it was reorganized and had its reactor division merged into EDF, had plans to build four EPRs in the US.  All of those plans fell by the wayside due to changes in energy markets primarily driven by the low cost of natural gas. Areva withdrew the EPR design from the safety evaluation process at the NRC.

The collapse of the V C Summer project in South Carolina, which was to be composed of two Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000s GEn III+ design units, has probably put off new starts of large nuclear reactors in the U.S for a long time.

Other Nuclear News

Japanese Gov’t to Aid Nuclear Energy Start-ups

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) plans to support start-ups in the field of nuclear power by providing funds and technical expertise to firms who are developing promising technologies with the objective of helping them commercialize those technologies.

The ministry will consider subsidizing 50% to 90% of their development costs, with the amounts varying depending on which of four stages they are in, from basic research to putting the technologies into commercial production.

Additionally, METI is reported by the Japan Times to have plans to provide start-ups with access to high temperature gas reactor designs and to test them at facilities owned by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. Agency personnel will be provided free of charge in some cases.

The initiative is aimed at boosting the number of technicians engaged in developing next-generation nuclear reactors such as small module reactors (SMRs).

The ministry will support the commercialization of new technologies by introducing investors and management consultants to students and young researchers engaged in nuclear energy technology development. Those students and researchers will be selected through competitions.

METI officials told the  Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper the country is seeing competition for development of SMRs and advanced reactors in the U.S. They mentioned NuScale’s work on as 50 MW SMR using LWR technology and work by TerraPower on an advanced fast reactor in partnership with Chinese nuclear firms.

Another reason that Japan is now investing in SMRs is that its export business for large scale reactors has dried up. Toshiba has withdrawn from the nuclear industry and Mitsubishi just withdrew from a four reactor project in Turkey. Hitachi’s plans to build four proven 1350 MW ABWRs in the UK are uncertain given the seeming inability of the UK government to come up with a viable funding plan for them.

Given this global situation, the Japanese Cabinet is “pursuing reactors with excellent safety, economic efficiency and mobility” by 2050. This policy includes promoting the development of new types of reactors such as HTGRs.  Japan does not have a domestic program for HTGRs though it does have several international joint R&D projects with other countries.

As nuclear power plants have a lifespan of up to 60 years, existing nuclear power plants need to be rebuilt and new reactors have to be put to practical use around 2040. METI officials are thinking long term. They said that by 2050 the practical use of fast reactors such as sodium-cooled fast reactors may be a reality.

In the mean time, METI is betting on SMRs with power in the range of 200-to-300 MW. Follow global development trends, the plan is for the  main parts are mostly preconstructed and assembled at the plant itself to reduce on-site construction, a method that is expected to cut construction costs. At customer sites safety will be enhanced by burying reactors underground.

While METI is focused on export opportunities, it has not as yet addressed the issue of whether or how Japan will replace its fleet of nuclear reactors as they approach the 40 year mark. The Japanese government is deeply conflicted over this issues and faces strong opposition in some areas to restart of reactors closed following the Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Russia Produces First MOX Fuel
for Beloyarsk-4 Fast Neutron Reactor

(NucNet): The first production batch of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies for the Beloyarsk-4 BN-800 fast neutron reactor has been produced at the Mining and Chemical Combine at Zheleznogorsk in central Siberia, state nuclear corporation Rostom said.

Rosatom said the fuel pellets in the assemblies were made of a mixture of depleted uranium oxides accumulated from enterprises connected to state nuclear fuel company Tvel and plutonium oxides separated during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

The basic technology for manufacturing the MOX fuel pellets was developed by TVEL subsidiary AA Bochvar Research Institute of Inorganic Materials. The fuel pellets are manufactured from a mixture of oxides of depleted uranium accumulated at TVEL facilities and oxides of plutonium extracted during the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The first batch of MOX fuel assemblies were shipped to the first-of-a-kind BN-800 fast reactor in March 2014. A total of 106 assemblies were produced by Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad.

The BN-800 reactor, constructed as unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Sverdlovsk district, was brought to minimum controlled power for the first time in June 2014, at which time commercial operation was planned for the end of that year.

See prior coverage on this blog for November 2016.

However, in December 2014 operator Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear fuel for the unit would first be developed further. It was brought again to the minimum controlled power level in August 2015, and again in November 2015, eventually being connected to the grid  in December 2015. The 789 MWe reactor entered commercial operation in October 2016.

Russia’s MOX Fuel Program

The industrial production of MOX fuel in Russia is part of a federal program to develop a new generation of nuclear technologies. The MOX fuel project was led by Tvel.

“The beginning of serial production of MOX fuel for the BN-800 is an important step for solving the strategic task of creating a closed nuclear fuel cycle and a two-component nuclear power industry with thermal and fast neutron reactors,” said Konstantin Vergazov, senior vice-president of Tvel.

Vergazov added that using Russia’s significant reserves of depleted uranium and plutonium will help to increase the fuel options for nuclear energy and reduce the consumption of natural uranium, the main ingredient for nuclear fuel.

Beloyarsk-4, at Zarechny near Yekaterinburg in central Russia, is the country’s first reactor of the BN-800 design. Commercial operation started in 2016 with a capacity of 820 MW.

There is another commercially operational reactor at the Beloyarsk station, the Beloyarsk-3 BN-600 fast neutron unit which is a smaller version of the BN-800.

Russia is considering further expansion of the Beloyarsk station with the construction of Unit 5, an even larger 1,200-MW fast neutron reactor, but according to recent reports a decision to proceed with that design depends on the operational results of Beloyarsk-4.

US Should ‘Reset’ Its Nuclear Waste Program, says Stanford Study

(NucNet) The US should “reset” its nuclear waste program by moving responsibility for commercially generated, used nuclear fuel away from the federal government and into the hands of an independent, non-profit, utility owned and -funded nuclear waste management organisation, a Stanford University-led study has concluded. (executive summary) (Full text; PDF file)

The study said the new, independent, utility-owned organization would control spent fuel from the time it is removed from reactors until its final disposal in a deep geologic repository.

“This is not a new idea. Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada all have adopted a similar approach, and their nuclear waste management programs are moving forward.”

Ideas for an independent nuclear waste corporation have floated around US think tanks and national labs for decades, but Congress has never moved forward with legislation to create one.

Essential to the success of a new organization would be access to the Nuclear Waste Fund. Reassigning responsibility to a new organization, whether controlled by the federal government or nuclear utilities, would require new legislation.

The federal Nuclear Waste Fund, which contains more than $40bn, is made up of charges against electric utilities to pay for the costs of constructing and operating a permanent repository.

The Stanford study says the US government has worked for decades and spent tens of billions of dollars in search of a permanent disposal site for the nation’s nuclear waste. Some 80,000 tonnes of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste from defense programs are stored in pools, dry casks and large tanks at more than 75 sites throughout the country.

Since 1987, the Department of Energy focused on developing a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, spending approximately $10bn on the project and submitting a license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008. In 2010, the DOE declared Yucca Mountain “unworkable” and unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw its application.

The courts have held the government liable for the DOE’s inaction, awarding reactor owners damages for the department’s failure to meet a January 1998 deadline to begin removing used fuel from reactor sites.

The problem continues to be one not of technical feasibility but of political will.

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China General Nuclear Offers to Speed Up Bradwell

bradwell logoWith Toshiba’s decision to abandon the Moorside project (three Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000s) and no clear successor in place, the new UK based CEO of the CGN operation is offering to close the gap in the UK nuclear new build by speeding up work at Bradwell.

Robert Davies, CEO of CGN UK, speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association’s Nuclear 2018 conference in London this week, said that with the withdrawal of Toshiba’s NuGeneration effort, China General Nuclear is ready to ramp-up its plans for a new plant at Bradwell.

It would do so based on its HPR1000 (Hualong One) design. The revised, and faster, schedule would have the objective of keeping the UK’s nuclear power program on track.

Davies said CGN UK could close the gap in the UK’s nuclear program following Toshiba’s decision last month to withdraw from its nuclear new-build project in the UK.

World Nuclear News (WNN) reported the highlights of his statement.

“The expected sequence of reactors coming online has been interrupted,” Davies said.

“We will bring forward significantly the date at which we expect the first UK HPR1000 to enter commercial operation. We are confident we can close that gap by bringing Bradwell into operation much sooner. Rescheduling the project, bringing forward COD [commercial operation date], bringing forward FID [final investment decision] and focusing on a target COD of circa 2030.”

WNN noted that the basis for CGNUK’s engagement with the Bradwell project is a strategic investment agreement signed in October 2016. CGN agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, and to jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.

The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France’s EPR reactor technology, while the new plant at Bradwell in Essex will feature the Hualong One design.

As part of that agreement, CGN formed a joint venture company with EDF Energy to seek regulatory approval for a UK version of the Hualong One design.

Last month the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency completed “initial high-level scrutiny” of the UK HPR1000 reactor design. The design now moves onto the third of four stages in the Generic Design Assessment process.

CGNUK Cites firm’s Success with Areva’s Taishan-11650 MW EPR

Davies said CGN’s confidence in ramping up its plans in the UK stems from its experience in delivering new nuclear projects in China. Earlier this year CGN brought the world’s first EPR – Taishan 1 – into commercial operation.

“Taishan is bringing confidence and certainty to Hinkley Point C, with CGN bringing to HPC not just money, but also engineering and project expertise,” he said.

CGN also said it can be counted on because it is building two demonstration HPR1000 reactors at the Fangchenggang site in China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region.

Risks of Doing Nothing About the Loss of Moorside

Davies also said there are risks if the UK doesn’t revamp its nuclear energy program.

“If we as a nation do not commit, then we will see none of the benefits of scale, prices will remain high; and, UK energy policy will fail to deliver the reliable, secure and clean energy that we will need more and more for the world’s electric vehicles, artificial intelligence and cloud computing.

“We must go low-carbon now – we cannot wait. Our children, let alone our grandchildren, will not forgive us the dithering while the world warms. We are to make and keep to decisions today that will deliver what we need tomorrow or the UK will never catch up with what it needs. We collectively – and that includes our policymakers – must be bold and confident.”

Horizon Funding Still a Question

(Reuters)  – Britain may invest directly in a new nuclear power plant it wants built in northern Wales, the country’s business minister said, as it battles to find a cost-effective way to keep its nuclear ambitions alive.

Private investors have proved reluctant to take on the huge costs of new nuclear plants, and the government has come under fire for agreeing to pay a price for electricity from Hinkley Point C that is way above rival power projects.

“For this project, the government will be considering direct investment alongside Hitachi and the Japanese government agencies and other partners,” Greg Clark told parliament.

Hitachi’s Horizon Nuclear Power plans to construct at least four 1300 MW ABWR nuclear reactors at two sites in Britain – the first at Wylfa Newydd in Wales.

Nikkei, a Japanese business wire service, reports that Hitachi CEO Toshiaki Higashihara is asking the UK government to take a 50% direct stake in the Horizon nuclear power project. The firm’s CEO would like to see is a consortium of UK firms and the government take half of the risk of financing the project.

Hitachi will also ask the UK government to provide loan guarantees for the 50% share its does take in the project to lower the interest rate and thus the financial costs of the loans.

Another key issue, as Hitachi sees it, is for the UK government to guarantee the rates the plants will charge for electricity which also is seen as a confidence builder for investors.

Hitachi has already spent near $3 billion on development of the project including the licensing of the ABWR design in the UK via the GDR process which was successfully completed in December 2017.

If Horizon is successful with Wylfa, it hopes to build a second 2.7 GWe nuclear power station at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. The plants will also use Hitachi’s advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR).

Update 12/10/18: Reuters reports that Hitachi is considering pulling out of both projects if it cannot come to acceptable terms with the UK government over costs and rates.

Other Nuclear News

Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project
to Close Next Year

The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) at the Idaho Cleanup site is expected to close next year. The closure plan follows a Department of Energy (DOE) decision not to bring transuranic waste from Hanford for processing in Idaho and then be sent to WIPP.

amwtf DOE photo

Workers Retrieve Transuranic Waste at the AMWTF. Image: DOE file photo.

The Associated Press reported that workers are wrapping up processing of 85,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste at DOE’s 890-square-mile site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory which also operates a separate nuclear energy program in unrelated facilities.

The treatment plant, which reportedly cost $500M, handles transuranic waste that includes work clothing, machine parts, metal parts, and tools that have been contaminated with plutonium, uranium and other radioactive materials.


Uncontrolled dumping of radioactive waste in an open pit on the Arco desert in the 1960s.  Image: Idaho Cleanup Project file photo.

The Idaho treatment plant retrieves the waste from open pits and trenches where it was dumped in the 1950s and 60s. Some of the waste came from the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb components factory located near Denver.

It was thought at the time that no one would care about radioactive waste being dumped in open pits and trenches on the Arco Desert 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID.  The government falsified records about the nature of the waste as a security measure to prevent foreign powers from learning about the bomb making processes at the Rocky Flats plant.

However, long after the waste was shipped to Idaho, it was discovered that the plutonium from the waste was moving underground and had penetrated to over 200 feet below the surface.  Far below that point the Snake River Aquifer flowed through interlaced lenses of lava rock and sediment. The enormous river of underground water is  a primary source for pump irrigation used to grow the the state’s famous potatoes.

A Settlement Agreement in 1995 ordered the Department of Energy to get the waste out of Idaho which is how the AMWTP eventually came to be built.  The AMWTF repackages the waste and places it in new shipping containers which are then sent for permanent disposal in geologically stable underground salt formations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.

Federal officials this year explored the idea of keeping the AMWTF running in Idaho by transporting waste from other states. The first site considered was the former nuclear weapons production area in Hanford.

With the Idaho treatment plant scheduled to shut down, AP reported that it’s not clear how the transuranic waste at Hanford and other sites will be dealt with. Disposing of the waste in place at that site is not an option. It’s entirely possible that DOE will have to build a facility similar to the one in Idaho to package the transuranic waste at Hanford so it can be shipped for disposal at WIPP.

“The Department of Energy analyzed the feasibility of extending the AMWTP mission to treat waste from other DOE sites, and concluded it would not be cost-effective,” DOE spokesman Tim Jackson told the Post Register.

About 700 people work at the site. A press spokesman for the cleanup contractor said the firm would offer voluntary separation opportunities and also try to find jobs for workers at other DOE cleanup sites.

The closure decision drew a response from U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who is chairman of the House Energy and Water subcommittee. He told the Post Register; “It is a difficult thing to know that you are working yourself out of a job every day, but that is the unfortunate nature of cleanup work.”

NEI Sends Letter to Congress
on Management of Spent Nuclear Fuel

Fifteen leading industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Nuclear Energy Institute, sent a letter this week to Congressional leaders urging “immediate congressional action to revitalize the federal used nuclear fuel program.”

In the letter, the groups write: “Another year without progress on the Yucca Mountain repository license application and consolidated interim storage is untenable.”

They point out that electricity customers have already paid more than $40 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, but there has been no progress by the federal government to meet its “statutory and contractual obligations.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

Russia To Help Argentina Explore
Option Of Floating Nuclear Power Plant

(NucNet) Russia and Argentina have signed an agreement to explore the possibility of the construction of nuclear plants and floating nuclear plants.

According to the agreement, the two countries will also consider the joint operation of a fleet of Russian-designed floating nuclear power plants.

Argentina has three operating commercial power reactors – a Candu unit at the Embalse nuclear station and two KWU (Kraftwerk Union) pressurized heavy water reactor units (PHWR) at Atucha. They provide about 10% of the country’s electricity.

A prototype domestically designed and developed 25-MW small pressurized water reactor known as Carem is under construction at a site next to the Atucha station.

In 2017 Argentina said it planned to start construction of the first of two new nuclear reactor units in the second half of 2018, but so far this has not happened. Argentina was said to be in the process of finalizing negotiation of the commercial and financial contracts to build the two plants after signing a $12.5bn agreement with China for the construction and financing.

According to the agreement, China’s National Nuclear Corporation and Nucleoeléctrica Argentina were to begin construction of Atucha-3, a 700-MW Candu-6 PHWR, in 2018 and will start building a 1,000-MW Hualong One, or HPR1000, PWR unit in 2020.

The Russians at one time offered a 1000 MW VVER to Argentina, but so far nothing has developed to advance that deal.

Bulgaria Eyes Belene Completion
in 10 Years And For €10Bn

According to a report by NucNet Bulgaria wants to build the two-unit Belene nuclear power station within 10 years and at a cost of up to €10bn, Bulgarian energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova told a parliamentary hearing according to Bulgarian National Television.

Ms Petkova said she believes that building the two-unit station is “realistic.”

The government’s policy to attract private investment for the project, subject to there being no state guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts, remains unchanged, Ms Petkova said.

In short, the country wants any vendor to self-finance the project, which is an enormous and essentially untenable risk.  Burgaria may eventually realize it has to put up some of the cash to pay for the project if it expects investors to come to the table.

Ms Petkova said the procedure to select an investor for Belene is ready and will start in early 2019, with the aim of completing it by the year’s end. Earlier reports quoted the minister as saying that the procedure was to start by the end of 2018.

In 2008, Bulgaria ordered the design, construction and commissioning of two Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor units for Belene. The project was cancelled in 2012 because of financial and political considerations. It was revived again in June 2018 after a series of arbitration procedures which took about four years to conclude.

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Posted in Nuclear | 1 Comment

Will France Fry Its Nuclear Future for Short-Term Political Gain?

  • French President Macron announced a plan this week to execute a “cautious reduction” of its nuclear fleet.
  • Despite the promises of Green Party politicians for more a more aggressive schedule, only the Fessenheim nuclear station, built in 1978, is actually scheduled to close by 2020.
  • He said France would cap the amount of electricity it derives from nuclear plants at 50% by 2035, which is a delay compared with the goal of 2025 set by his predecessor Francois Hollande.
  • Macron said France will not phase out nuclear entirely, as its neighbors Germany and Belgium are planning to do.

nucler france wnaMacron said 14 of EDF’s 58 reactors would be closed by 2035, including “four to six” before 2030, two in 2027-28 and possibly two in 2025-26 if this does not jeopardize the security of power supply.

Also, Macron’s plan is less aggressive than what would be in a schedule the country might adopt if it set a deadline for closing plants, without regard to condition, at the 40 year mark. Here’s a scorecard.

  • 32 reactors with power ratings on average of 900 MW reach the 40 year mark in a narrow range of 2023-2028.
  • 20 reactors with power rating on average of 1300 MW reach the 40 year mark in a 10 year range of 2029-2040
  • 2 reactors with power ratings of 1450 MW reach the 40 year mark in 2040.

The problem for France, which Macron has not addressed, is how it it will replace its fleet with a combination of nuclear, gas, and renewables, and how it will upgrade its grid to accommodate the new mix of power sources. France produces more nuclear energy than any other country, getting about 71% of its electricity from its fleet of reactors at 19 nuclear stations.

france reactors wna

Nuclear Power Plants in France. Table: World Nuclear Association

Two Phases of Closures

Nearly half of all the electrical power generated by nuclear plants in France, 27 GWe, comes from plants that hit the 40 year mark in a narrow five year window of 2023-2028. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plans could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the mid-2040s.

Similarly, the other half, more or less, of the French nuclear fleet hits the 40 year mark in the 10 year period starting  in 2029. If the reactor plant life extension measures can be taken, the plans could get 20 year license renewals that would take them into the 2050s.

President Macron said France will shut down just 14 commercial nuclear reactors by 2035 out of 58, all operated by state-controlled utility EDF. He said France will only close two reactors by 2020 – Fessenheim-1 and Fessenheim-2.

New Plants for Old

The president said nuclear would remain a key element in national power supply. He kicked the decision on building new nuclear reactors in the future after 2021. A likely scenario is that new reactors would be based on Areva’s 1650 MW EPR design or possibly an 1100 MW design developed jointly by Areva and Mistubishi which is a scaled down version of the EPR.

France has made only tentative plans to invest in development of small modular reactors (SMRs). According to a global review of SMRs by the World Nuclear Association in November 2018, France has developed the NP-300 PWR design from submarine power plants and aimed it at export markets for power, heat and desalination. It has passive safety systems and could be built for applications of 100 to 300 MWe or more with up to 500,000 m3/day desalination. The profile does not mention its use for domestic markets or applications.

Future of EDF In Play

A press release from the Ministry for an Ecological and Solidarity Transition said: “The government will maintain a dialogue with EDF in order to plan this decrease [in nuclear capacity] and designate sites on which the closures will be made.”

It says closures should take place primarily at the sites housing the country’s oldest reactors: Blayais, Bugey, Chinon, Cruas, Dampierre, Gravelines, Saint-Laurent and Tricastin. However, it will be up to EDF to specify which reactors will be closed. All of these older units are in the range of 900 MW.

“The final confirmation of the reactors to be shut down will take place at least three years before the date of effective closure of the chosen reactors,” the ministry said.

In a nod to the reality that France is going to need new reactors, the government said further that it wants to maintain the option for possible future new reactors.

Macron said he has requested state-owned EDF to “work on the development of a new nuclear program.”

The government will lead a work program with EDF on industrial capacity issues of the nuclear industry, “economic optimization” of the EPR reactor design, storage of waste from a new reactor fleet, financing models, as well as regulatory and legal procedures. A decision to proceed with nuclear new build will also take place in 2021.

French Government to Boost Investment Share in EDF

Reuters reported that Macron did not mention a possible EDF restructuring but a separate statement from the government said the state could raise its 83.7 percent stake.

“The state will consider boosting its stake in the capital of the company in line with the challenges and risks linked to the nuclear activity,” the note said.

Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy told a news conference that EDF’s structure was not necessarily the most efficient in the long run.

“We want EDF to remain an integrated group. There could be a parent company and subsidiaries,” he said.

Reuters reported that Financial markets have long speculated that EDF’s nuclear activities could be put into a separate legal structure and nationalized, which would allow the state to subsidize the business

France Must Remain Committed To EPR Technology Says Macron

(NucNet): The EPR nuclear power unit must be part of a package of technological options for tomorrow and France must maintain an industrial capacity to build new reactors, French president Emmanuel Macron said in his speech on the country’s energy program.

Mr Macron said France needed its EPR technology “for sovereignty issues” and said the government and state-controlled utility EDF will work together on “the issues of industrial capacity” of the [nuclear] sector and “the economic optimization of a new reactor model”.

According to French nuclear society SFEN, EDF has said its aim is to reduce the costs of building new EPR units to €60 to €70 per MWh.

The cost of the Flamanville-3 plant under construction in northern France has been put at between $93 and $106 per MWh, about the same as gas or coal-powered plants but cheaper than onshore wind farms.

SFEN told NucNet earlier this year that if France – which has the world’s highest share of nuclear in its electricity mix – built 14 new EPR units it could cut costs and reduce construction times by up to 30%, benefitting from savings that can be made from building a series of identical or similar plants.

Nuclear Policy Will Have No Short-Term Consequences Says Orano

(NucNet): Decisions announced by president Emanuel Macron regarding the shutdown of nuclear power reactors will have no short-term consequences for Orano’s plants in France, although they may have an impact “towards the middle of the next decade”, the company said in a statement.

Orano, formerly Areva, said France has confirmed its commitment to treatment and recycling for the management of spent nuclear fuel.  The company said it will implement measures to limit the impact of any shutdowns and would pursue investments in its facilities.

The company has two main facilities at La Hague in northern France and the Melox plant in southern France. La Hague carries out the first stage of recycling used fuel from nuclear reactors. The Melox site manufactures mixed oxide fuel assemblies designed to supply light-water reactors.

Orano said nuclear energy is the third largest industrial sector in France and employs more than 220,000 people.

Other Nuclear News

Holtec Signs Agreement To Build
$680M Nuclear Component Plant In India

US-based Holtec International has signed an agreement with the Indian state of Maharashtra to build a manufacturing facility that would expand India’s domestic industrial capacity to produce nuclear systems and components.

According to the statement, the planned manufacturing plant will fabricate complex and safety-related nuclear equipment which could support India’s planned expansion of nuclear generation.

A Holtec official was quoted as saying that the proposed deal will allow for closer cooperation between the US and India in the deployment of Holtec’s SMR-160 small modular reactor design “around the world”.

India’s cabinet in May last year approved the future construction of ten 700 MWe indigenous designed pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) as a fully ‘homegrown’ initiative with likely manufacturing orders to Indian industry of about (USD11 billion).

DOE Award to Holtec SMR Effort

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

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

Holtec SMR

Conceptual Image of Holtect 160 MW SMR. Image: Holtec.

The awards are through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s (NE) funding opportunity announcement (FOA) U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development. DOE said in a press statement that Holtec’s total funding for the project will be $3.25M.

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

Terrestrial Energy Wins DOE Funds
for Licensing Support for Molten Salt Design

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on November 13th, that it had selected Terrestrial Energy USA (TEUSA) for a financial award to support the company’s pre-application activities with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

These activities will advance the licensing of the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR®) power plant design in the United States and accelerate its deployment. DOE Funding: $499,232; Non-DOE: $124,808; Total Value: $624,040

The award was made as part of a program established and managed by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, to accelerate development of advanced nuclear technology. An element of this DOE funding program was established specifically to fund, through private-public partnerships, activities to support regulatory engagement leading to licensing approvals of projects involving advanced reactor designs.


Molten Salt Conceptual Diagram. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

Simon Irish, Chief Executive Officer of Terrestrial Energy USA said. “The award sits on our critical path to market and advances our IMSR® regulatory program in a clear and defined way. On completion, it will also be an important demonstration of the viability and applicability of the regulatory framework for advanced reactor licensing.”

Terrestrial Energy USA is developing the IMSR® power plant design for electric grid power and industrial process heat generation, and plans for first U.S. deployment in the late 2020s. The IMSR® is a Generation IV advanced reactor that uses liquid fuel molten-salt technology in an innovative reactor design, one that incorporates all primary reactor components within a sealed and replaceable reactor vessel, the IMSR® “Core-unit,” that has a seven-year operating lifetime.

US Companies Collaborate on TRISO Fuel Facility

Triso fuel

TRISO Fuel Cutaway Digram: Image: INL

Centrus Energy Corp and X-energy are to proceed with the preliminary design of a facility to fabricate advanced nuclear fuels based on X-energy’s uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel forms.

A new services contract calls for the firms to complete a conceptual design of a fabrication facility to provide TRISO fuel for X-energy’s Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled modular reactor and other advanced reactors.

Under the agreement, Centrus will provide X-energy with technical expertise and resources to support preliminary facility design, including detailed nuclear criticality safety analysis, infrastructure design, and balance of plant support systems, as well as initial work on a licence application for the facility. Centrus is also providing facility space to X-energy at Centrus’ Technology and Manufacturing Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where X-energy and Centrus employees are working together on the project.

“We see great promise in this market and believe the advanced TRISO fuel to be produced in this facility will offer an attractive and competitive solution to power advanced reactors around the world,” Centrus President and CEO Daniel Poneman said.

Pete Pappano, X-energy’s principal investigator and vice president of fuels production, said the collaboration had already succeeded in producing a conceptual layout of the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility.

“With this new agreement, X-energy and Centrus will complete the preliminary and final designs of the TRISO-X Facility, positioning the companies to be first to market in the sector of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) TRISO-based fuel for advanced reactors and, potentially, accident tolerant fuel for the existing light water reactor fleet,” he said.

The Xe-100 is a 200 MWt (75 MWe) reactor, which X-energy envisages being built as a standard “four-pack” plant generating about 300 MWe. The plant will use ‘pebbles’ of fuel containing TRISO fuel particles. Each TRISO particle has a kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide, encased in carbon and ceramic layers which prevent the release of radioactivity. The layers provide each particle with its own independent containment system, while the graphite surrounding the particles moderates the nuclear reaction. Such fuel cannot melt down.

X-energy has already successfully fabricated its first fuel pebbles using natural uranium at a pilot scale fuel facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company earlier this year received an award of USD4.5 million from the US Department of Energy for a total cost-shared value of USD8.9 million to design a commercial scale fuel fabrication facility and submit a licence application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission by mid-2021.

X-energy President Harlan Bowers said in March that the fabrication facility is scheduled to be producing fuel by 2025, to support first-of-a-kind reactor deployment by the mid- to late-2020s.

CGN Appoints Former Horizon COO
to Lead Bradwell B Project

(NucNet): China’s CGN has announced that Alan Raymant, former chief operating officer of UK-based Horizon Nuclear Power, has joined CGN UK as chief executive officer of the Bradwell B nuclear power station project.

Zheng Dongshan, chief executive of CGN UK, said the Bradwell B project is of great importance to CGN, since “it will involve us in delivering our advanced HPR1000 technology under the robust and world-leading regulatory regime that exists in the UK”.

CGN said development of the UK HPR1000 at Bradwell B will follow on from development of new nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C.

CGN owns 33.5% of the Hinkley Point C project, in which it is both an investor and an industrial partner.  It is a 20% shareholder in Sizewell C and a majority shareholder in Bradwell Power Generation Company Ltd, a joint venture with EDF which will take forward the Bradwell B project.

The reference plant for Bradwell B is the HPR1000 reactor under construction at Fangchenggang, in Guangxi Province, China.

Bellefonte Purchase / Construction Plan Goes Bust
Over Lack of Compliance with NRC Requirements

bellefonte scottsboro al

Bellefonte Cooling Towers

A private development group that’s been working to purchase and finish construction of the Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama as  part of a $111M purchase plan was unable to close it with TVA by a Friday deadline. The deal is apparently dead, at least for now. (See prior coverage on this blog in Nov’16 which raised serious questions about the prospects for the success of the project.)

Nuclear Development LLC (ND), said Friday that it is suing the seller, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) over the utility’s decision to end negotiations with ND due to its failure to comply with NRC requirements.

The firm has tried to buy the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant from TVA and get Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) to leave the service area of that utility. MLGW is one of TVA’s largest customers.

Officials with TVA told local news media it had notified ND of “outstanding legal issues” that prevented the transaction’s closure.

“I want to be very clear. TVA did not tell them we aren’t going to go through with it. TVA reminded Nuclear Development of the legal requirements that would still have to be resolved if they were to close today,” said TVA spokesman Jim Hopson.

The legal requirements are related to the firm’s acquisition of  licensing to own a nuclear facility as required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The NRC received the application for the 10CFR50 construction license on November 13th.  The plants had been placed on “deferred” status in 2010. See in NRC ADAMS ML18318A428 for full text and all supporting documents – NRC Docket Nos. 50-438 and 50-439.

Haney’s firm asked the NRC for construction licenses for both partially completed reactors even though most experts who looked at the project assumed that only one of the reactors would be economically feasible to complete. TVA cannibalized both plants for equipment over the years.

A TVA spokesman told the Memphis Business Journal that one of the reasons of the closing date for this agreement was two years after the purchase was to allow Nuclear Development to go through all of the necessary actions required to obtain [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] permission.

As of Friday 12/1/18 the NRC was still reviewing an application that Nuclear Development filed this month. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the full review of transferring the construction permit from TVA to ND is not yet underway and would take between six to 12 months.

The Bellefonte plant needs a construction license to restart completion of the plant. It would also need an operating license. The plant comes under the coverage of older, and separate, regulatory licensing processes.

“TVA declined to provide a contract extension beyond the nearly 25 months already provided due to Nuclear Development’s lack of diligence in completing these required activities,” Hopson said.

Franklin L. Haney, the NC CEO, is a major political donor who gave $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. He bragged about his close ties to the Trump administration hoping to influence decisions by DOE for loan guarantees and by the IRS for production tax credits. Neither agency granted his requests.

UAE Regulator not Ready to License Barakah 1 Nuclear Plant

Reuters reports that the United Arab Emirates’ Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation is not ready to give the company that will run the country’s first nuclear plant a license to operate, a senior official said on Wednesday.

The $24.4 billion Barakah power plant is the world’s largest nuclear project under construction and will be the first in the Arab world. The plant, with four reactors, has total capacity of 5,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

The operator, Nawah, has meet all regulatory requirements, Christer Viktorsson, director-general of the nuclear body, told a news conference.

“We are continuing to review the application of the operator to start Barakah,” he said. “We are not ready to give the operating license yet.”

The regulator is waiting for Nawah to declare itself technically and organizationally ready, he said. In nuclear terms, the plant must complete an ‘operational readiness review’ or ORR.  Gaps or deficiencies in the ORR will delay the licensing process. Training issues for staff have been cited as one of the findings in a review.

The plant was originally scheduled to start operating in 2017. It has since been delayed to late 2019-early 2020.

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No Progress in 123 Agreement Negotiations with KSA

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

                                                       Updated 11/27/18 – See below

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

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

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

KSA Wants a Domestic Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KSA’s Current Leader Cannot be Trusted
with Nuclear Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would South Korea violate the terms of its 123 Agreement?

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

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

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

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

Further Note on IAEA Inspections

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

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

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

Prior Updates on KSA 123 Agreement Negotiations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update for September 2018

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

Updates for July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other items on the Steinitz list included;

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

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

Update June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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