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Significant nuclear-related news items in perspective. For previous items, see the Archive.

15 & 22 June

First Westinghouse AP1000 reactor starts up in China

Unit 1 of the Sanmen nuclear power plant has started up in Zhejiang province in China.  It is the world’s first 1250 MWe AP1000, one of four being built in China, and is of particular significance there since it was established in 2007 as the country’s new standard reactor design, following a bidding process involving Westinghouse, Areva and Atomstroyexport. The agreement with Westinghouse involves substantial technology transfer, so that in China the AP1000 is also the basis of further reactor development. Two AP1000 are also under construction at Vogtle, in USA, but were significantly affected by Westinghouse chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Chinese units are being built with little US involvement.

First concrete at Sanmen was in April 2009 with expectation of less than six years construction. However, some design changes and problems with US-supplied coolant pumps stretched construction time to over nine years, eroding confidence in the design. The indigenous Hualong One reactor has displaced AP1000 in some plans.  Fuel loading at another AP1000, Haiyang 1 in Shandong province, began the same day as Sanmen 1 criticality.
Westinghouse 21/6/18.  China NP

Early closure of oldest South Korean reactor announced

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power has announced that it will close its oldest reactor before its 2022 licence expiry, due to low utilization and “uncertain economic viability”. This is a CANDU 6 unit which commenced operation in 1983. It was refurbished a few years ago.

More significantly, the company also announced cancellation of plans for four new reactors at Cheonji, and said it would sell the land. These were to be a new 1500 MWe APR+ design, developed from the APR1400 now operating in South Korea and with four almost completed in UAE.  It is also planned for the Moorside plant in UK.  However, the APR+ was meant to succeed this design.  It gained design approval from the regulator in 2014 and was “developed with original domestic technology”, up to 100% localized, over the seven years prior, with export markets in view. It has significant design improvements and is more highly reinforced against aircraft impact than any earlier designs.
WNN 15/6/18.   South Korea

Japan restarts further reactor

Kyushu has restarted and grid-connected its Genkai 4 of 1180 MWe, joining unit 3 at the site which restarted in March.  This brings to nine and 8706 MWe net the total back on line so far in Japan.
WNN 19/6/18.   Japan NP

Silex abandons US plans for uranium enrichment

After two years of attempting to make a case for buying out GE-Hitachi (GEH), the main partner in its US licensee for the SILEX laser enrichment technology, Sydney-based Silex Systems Ltd has decided to pull out of negotiations. GEH owns 76% of GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment LLC (GLE), with Cameco owning the rest.  During negotiations on the restructure of GLE, Silex has been funding 76% of GLE’s R&D at Wilmington, North Carolina. GLE is well advanced in commercialising the SILEX process, and has an agreement with the US Department of Energy to enrich about 300,000 tonnes of depleted uranium tails at Paducah, Kentucky to natural-grade uranium. “Unless circumstances change dramatically in the short-term, Silex also intends to give notice to GLE of termination of the SILEX technology license, …. signed in 2013.”

“The overarching factor which contributed to this decision is the worsening outlook for the global nuclear fuel markets, which have deteriorated steadily since 2011,” according to Silex. While significant expansion of nuclear power is occurring in several countries, “the fuel markets for these countries are generally less accessible.” The company lamented that as well as abandoning the Paducah project, “the opportunity to support the United States regain its leadership position in advanced nuclear technology has also been lost, and the unique ability to produce a highly flexible range of fuels for the next generation of advanced small modular reactors will now not be realised”. Silex will take “appropriate steps to repatriate the technology from the US to the Lucas Heights facility” near Sydney as well as “exploring commercialisation of the technology with third parties in other countries should opportunities arise and as market conditions improve.”
WNN 13/6/18, Silex 12/6/18.   U Enrichment

1 & 8 June

New reactor starts up and another commences operation in China

The first Areva (now Framatome) EPR has started up at Taishan in the south of Guangdong province. This is the world’s largest reactor – 1750 MWe gross - and the first of the type in the world to reach criticality. It has been under construction for eight and a half years, which is faster than two others in France and Finland. The company building the Taishan plant is a subsidiary of China General Nuclear (CGN), and has 30% EdF equity. Unit 2 is about a year behind it.

The fifth reactor at Yangjiang nuclear power plant also in Guangdong province (and not far from Taishan) has been connected to the grid after 56 months construction. It is a 1080 MWe ACPR1000 reactor, the final design variant of a long series based on French technology.  It is also the first Chinese reactor to feature a domestically-developed digital control system. Its twin, unit 6, is less than a year behind it. Hong Kong-based utility China Light and Power (CLP) has a 17% share of the operating company, which is a CGN subsidiary.  This brings to 39 the operating nuclear power reactors in China, with 35,667 MWe net, while 17 large units are under construction (including Taishan, above, pending grid connection).
WNN 25/5/18.   China NP

USA drafts plans to secure power from nuclear plants

The US President has directed the Department of Energy to make plans to secure the future of nuclear and coal-fired plants at risk of closure. The plan would see DOE use authority under two existing laws - the Federal Power Act and the 1950 Defense Production Act - temporarily to delay retirements of fuel-secure electric generation resources, while it analyses and takes action to address the "resilience needs" of the electric generation system. This would involve directing system operators over a two-year period to purchase electricity or generation capacity from a designated list of facilities, to forestall any further retirements pending a fuller review of the electricity markets. The proposed order would also establish a Strategic Electric Generation Reserve. These measures replace a proposed rulemaking of September 2017 which would have recognised the attributes of generation sources able to store substantial fuel on site, such as nuclear plants.
WNN 4/6/18.   US NP

Langer Heinrich mine prepares to suspend production

Paladin Energy is preparing to shut down production from its Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia until uranium prices improve.  The mine has remaining reserves of 35,000 tU.  Last year mining was curtailed and production from stockpiles was 1308 tU, the lowest output since 2009. The plant will be put on care and maintenance.  Paladin’s Kayelekera mine in Malawi is also on care and maintenance following shutdown in 2014.  Paladin said that “Being the lowest cost open-pit uranium mine in the world means [Langer Heinrich mine] will likely be one of the first mines to return to production as the uranium market normalises.”

The mine joins Cameco’s McArthur River in Canada – shut down for most of 2018 and removing about 8000 tU from supply. Also Kazatomprom is reducing Kazakh uranium production by 20% in 2018 for three years, removing about 2600 tU from the market. Other cutbacks are in Niger.
WNN 26/4/18, Paladin 25/5/18.   Namibia, Canada U

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