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

10 & 17 March 2017

New Chinese reactor in commercial operation

China General Nuclear Power’s (CGN) Yangjiang 4 CPR-1000 in Guangdong province has entered commercial operation, after grid connection in January. The plant is operated by Yangjiang Nuclear Power Co Ltd, in which Hong Kong-based China Light and Power has a 17% stake.
WNN 16/3/17.     China NP

Bipartisan US moves to unclog the nuclear regulatory system

A significant bipartisan bill, first floated last year, has been introduced to congress. The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernisation Act (S 512) aims to modernise the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “and bring increased efficiency and fiscal accountability” at a time when a new generation of advanced reactor designs have begun to need the NRC’s regulatory attention. It directs the NRC to develop the regulatory framework necessary to enable the licensing of advanced nuclear reactors and to review its fee structure. “The bill ... affirms Congress’ view that this country can and should be a leader in advanced reactor technology. [It] effectively directs the NRC to think differently about reactor licensing” and accommodate new designs, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. The NRC needs to change its “untimely, somewhat outdated, and unnecessarily costly regulatory processes."  While Russia and China are proceeding expeditiously, the USA “cannot forgo advancements in reactor technology or we forgo our economic competitiveness and worldwide influence on nuclear non-proliferation,” Senator Inhofe said in promoting the bill.

The last three decades have seen little US nuclear innovation, and the one project set up by a 2005 Act – the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, a prototype high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTR) – was denied funding by the Obama administration and is dormant. China now leads the field with HTRs. The NRC has one design certification application under review for a small modular reactor – the Nuscale 50 MWe design. Its application comprised 12,000 pages.

Meanwhile several developers of small modular power plants are turning to Canada for design certification. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is conducting a pre-licensing Vendor Design Review for Ontario-based Terrestrial Energy Inc’s molten salt reactor and for Sweden-based LeadCold Reactors for its micro-fast reactor.  StarCore Nuclear from Quebec and the Urenco-led European U-Battery consortium have applied for the same for their small HTRs. GE Hitachi and Advanced Reactor Concepts who are collaborating on fast reactor designs in the USA are preparing to seek a pre-licensing Vendor Design Review from CNSC.  See below.
US NP, Small Reactors

US fast reactor designers get together

In 1994, US Congress under the Clinton administration shut down EBR-II, a sodium-cooled fast-neutron demonstration reactor with 30 years valuable operating experience. This delivered a major setback to US advanced fuel cycle developments and opened the way for Russia’s ascendancy in fast reactors today.  The EBR-II was the basis of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program, considered by the US National Academy of Sciences to be the nation's highest priority research for future reactor types.  The IFR was also aborted in 1994, three years before its commissioning.  IFR program goals were demonstrating inherent safety apart from engineered controls, improved management of high-level nuclear wastes by recycling all actinides (so that only fission products remain as high-level wastes). 

Two US developers have picked up the pieces from 1994 and are well ahead with reactors based on those designs, also using some of the EBR-II staff.  Well-established GE-Hitachi (GEH) has the PRISM design, a compact pool-type fast reactor of 311 MWe with metal fuel, and integrated with sophisticated reprocessing to close the fuel cycle.  Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC (ARC), set up in 2006, is developing a much smaller 100 MWe pool-type fast reactor which will be factory-produced. The ARC-100 has a uranium alloy metal core as a cartridge which is changed after 20 years. Both operate at over 500°C, can load-follow, and have passive cooling for decay heat removal. 

GEH and ARC have now signed an agreement to collaborate on licensing a small modular reactor design based on the ARC-100, but drawing on the extensive intellectual property and licensing experience of the GEH PRISM program. Initial deployment is envisaged in Canada, where they will seek a preliminary regulatory review through CNSC.
WNN 13/3/17.     US NP

Other papers significantly updated in the WNA Information Library (see WNA web site): Belarus, Namibia, Climate change policy

24 February & 3 March 2017

Commercial operation for first of new-generation Russian reactors

After connecting to the grid in August, Novovoronezh 6 has entered commercial operation, the first advanced Russian reactor to do so. The 1200 MWe class VVER unit (1114 MWe net) is the first of many under construction and planned, both domestically and for export.
WNN 2/3/17.     Russia NP

A third US state considers provisions for ongoing nuclear generation

The US states of New York and Illinois last year enacted measures providing zero emission credits (ZEC) for non-emitters of carbon dioxide, enabling at-risk nuclear power plants to avoid premature closure. New York's Clean Energy Standard was approved by the state's public service commission in August, helping to ensure the continued operation of Exelon's Nine Mile Point and RE Ginna nuclear power plants and prompting the acquisition by Exelon of Entergy's Fitzpatrick plant, which would otherwise have faced closure early in 2017. In Illinois, following the passage by state legislators of its Future Energy Jobs Bill in November, Exelon announced plans to continue operating the Clinton and Quad Cities plants - both of which had faced closure.

Now FirstEnergy is in dialogue with the sate government to secure the future of its two Ohio nuclear plants: Davis-Besse and Perry, owned by its subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, a 894 MWe PWR and a 1256 MWe BWR respectively. They produce about 90% of the state’s carbon-free electricity, and 11% of total in Ohio. Proposed legislation would give state lawmakers greater control and flexibility to preserve nuclear generation. "We believe this legislation would preserve not only zero emission assets but jobs, economic growth, fuel diversity, price stability and reliability, and grid security for the region."

FirstEnergy has 13,000 MWe of generating capacity including these and another nuclear plant of 1825 MWe which are in operating in deregulated markets. It has decided to relinquish all these assets by mid 2018, and withdraw from competitive generation altogether, maintaining only its generation assets in regulated markets (essentially cost-plus). This means that if Ohio does not proceed with legislation to provide ZECs so that the plants can be sold, they will be closed. The company recorded a $9.2 billion impairment charge for the fourth quarter of 2016, resulting from its intention to exit competitive operations significantly before the end of the useful lives of generation assets, including the nuclear and coal-fired plants. The drastic decision is indicative of the economic effect of competition from low-cost gas, particularly from shale gas developments with fracking, and subsidized wind power.
WNN 24/2/17.     US NP

Report on Fukushima 2 reactor

Media reports on Tepco’s recent investigation of the situation in Fukushima unit 2, have raised questions. Unit 2 is thought to be responsible for much of the airborne radioactivity released in the accident, though without suffering a hydrogen explosion in its superstructure. Tepco has now inserted a camera and instruments about eight metres through the reactor containment vessel into the area directly below the pressure vessel and showed something of the melted fuel. Radiation levels are as expected. Sweden’s Analysis Group has published a helpful commentary.

Tepco report:
Fukushima accident

Other papers significantly updated in the WNA Information Library (see WNA web site): Reactor Table, Small reactors, Reactors for space, Denmark, France, China NP.

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