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

8 & 15 September 2017

Small modular reactors push forward on US and UK fronts

One of the more advanced designs of small modular reactors (SMRs) is NuScale’s 50 MWe Power Module developed with Fluor in USA. This is a factory-built integral PWR with natural circulation in the primary circuit.  A standard power plant would have 12 modules together giving about 600 MWe. It has been supported by US government grants.

NuScale lodged an application for US design certification in January, and for a US loan guarantee this month. In 2013 NuScale launched the Western Initiative for Nuclear (WIN) - a broad, multi-state collaboration to demonstrate and deploy of a full NuScale plant in the western USA. WIN includes Energy Northwest (ENW) in Washington and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), and is now known as the Carbon-Free Power Project.  A demonstration NuScale SMR unit built as part of it is projected to be operational in mid 2020s, at the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, with UAMPS as the owner and ENW the operator. This would be followed by a full-scale 12-module plant (600 MWe).

Since October 2015 NuScale has aimed to deploy its 50 MWe SMR in the UK by the mid-2020s, and has sought partners for this. It announced in March 2016 that it would put its SMR forward as part of the UK government’s competition to identify the best value design for the UK.  NuScale has now launched an action plan in UK for near-term deployment of its reactors. This aims to put pressure on the UK government to deliver on some of its rhetoric regarding SMRs and work together with NuScale to develop "game-changing technology for the global energy system". The company already has well-established links with UK industry including Sheffield Forgemasters, and said that the UK supply chain could provide 85% of the UK reactor components, as well as being a base for world exports. Envisaged uses include desalination and industrial heat.

The UK's SMR consortium led by Rolls Royce subsequently released a report UK SMR: A National Endeavour, claiming that a UK SMR program could create 40,000 skilled jobs, contribute £100 billion to the UK economy and open up a potential £400 billion global export market.  It “would not only complement existing plans for large new build reactors in supporting the future energy mix, but would allow the UK nuclear industry to embark on a long-term sustainable program of international export.”  Rolls Royce itself has a 440 MWe SMR ready for licensing in UK. It is a conventional PWR but each of the major components can be trucked to site.
WNN 6 & 12/9/17.  US NP, UK

WNA 2017 Fuel Report launched

The World Nuclear Association’s biennial Nuclear Fuel Report was launched at the annual symposium in London.  While projecting significant growth in its reference scenario, notably in China, it has decreased forecasts of capacity compared with the 2015 edition. The several reasons for this are expounded. The report is compiled from a wide industry base and represents well-informed consensus.  Uranium production shows a surplus to 2023, and major inventories overhang the market.  174pp, £850.
WNN 14/9/17.  

25 August & 1 September 2017

Georgia Power decides to press on and complete new Vogtle nuclear plant

After a review of options and contingencies, Georgia Power, supported by the co-owners, has recommended to the state Public Services Commission (PSC) that construction of both Vogtle units should be completed, this being the most economic choice for customers. The total rate impact of the project remains less than originally estimated, it said. The recommendation will be reviewed by the PSC, which may approve, modify or reject it by the end of February 2018.

At the same time Georgia Power announced that had contracted with Bechtel to manage construction under the direction of Southern Nuclear Operating Company, which will be the operator. Bechtel has been involved with the project since January, correlated with “a marked increase in productivity” providing “every indication that we can do a better job than Westinghouse alone as we move forward to complete the project". Vogtle 3 and 4 would begin commercial operation late in 2021 and 2022 respectively, under a new construction schedule. 

Georgia Power (45.7% owner) said it had invested about $4.3 billion in capital costs in the project to June 2017 and now estimates its cost to complete to be about $4.5 billion, bringing the company's total capital cost forecast to $8.8 billion. The PSC has already approved $5.68 billion in capital costs for Georgia Power's share of the project. With payments of $1.7 billion under guarantees anticipated from Westinghouse parent company Toshiba, Georgia Power's potential additional capital costs are about $1.4 billion. Based on these new assessments, the total estimated capital cost forecast for the entire project is about $19 billion.  If the US senate extends the deadline to qualify for production tax credits of $23 per MWh for eight years, that will improve the economics of the project by over $400 million per year.
WNN 31/8/17.  US NP

US report on electricity markets and reliability

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has published a new study on Electricity Markets and Reliability, identifying several issues critical for maintaining reliable electricity supply. Specifically, the study was to examine the evolution of wholesale electricity markets, whether they adequately compensate all energy forms on their merits, and regulatory burdens on the energy industry. The report notes that accommodating variable renewable energy (VRE) sources such as wind and solar has led to imposed flexible operation of plants best suited, economically and technically, to continuous operation. The other main impact on coal and nuclear generation has been competition from low-priced gas. Resilience here depends on adequate gas supplies at times of high demand due to cold weather.

"Hydropower, nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants provide essential reliability services and fuel assurance critical to system resilience," so policy needs to focus on maintaining these, along with affordability. The report recommends that the DOE and other federal agencies accelerate and reduce costs for the licensing, relicensing and permitting of grid infrastructure such as nuclear, hydro, coal, advanced generation technologies and transmission. For nuclear power, the report says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be "encouraged to ensure the safety of existing and new nuclear facilities without unnecessarily adding to the operating costs and economic uncertainty of nuclear energy". It suggests that nuclear safety rules should be reviewed under a risk-based approach. The report recognises the importance of zero-emission credits put in place in New York and Illinois last year, valuing the carbon-free attributes of nuclear power.

The Nuclear Energy Institute welcomed the report’s focus on “the attributes of reliability, resilience, fuel diversity and affordability”, and confirmation “that nuclear energy is a key and necessary contributor to a clean, reliable and resilient electric grid," with fuel on-site.
WNN 24/8/17.  USA NP

Oman funds for new uranium mine in Spain

Berkeley Energia has arranged finance to bring its Salamanca project in Spain into production through a US$120 million convertible loan and option package with Oman’s sovereign wealth fund. This will see Oman become a substantial shareholder in the company, with opportunity to become an offtake partner for uranium production.  The company has commenced development of its mine, and production ramping up to 1700 tU per year is expected from next year. There are several deposits, some in areas previously-mined (to 2000) near the Portuguese border.
WNN 16/8/17.  Spain


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