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

9 & 16 February 2018

New Russian reactor starts up

The first of two 1170 MWe (gross) reactors comprising phase II of the Leningrad nuclear power plant has been started up at Sosnovy Bor, near St Petersburg. Eventually four of the new VVER-1200 reactors will replace the four operating RBMK units there, commissioned from 1974.  Construction of Leningrad II-1 started in October 2008, with unit 2 being 18 months behind. These are the first reactors of their particular type (V491).
WNN 6/2/18.   Russia NP

US extends tax break for new nuclear capacity

A Bipartisan Budget Act passed by congress and signed into law includes nuclear production tax credits that were initially created under the Energy Policy Act 2005 to provide federal support for projects like Georgia Power’s Vogtle units 3 & 4. Previously new reactors had to be operating before 2021 to be eligible, but this deadline is now removed, so that tax credits of $18/MWh over eight years are available for up to 6000 MWe of new capacity.  So both Vogtle 3 & 4 as well as the NuScale Power’s small modular reactor (SMR) project at the Idaho National Laboratory could benefit.  At 90% capacity each new Vogtle reactor would produce 8.8 TWh/yr and hence receive $158 million per year.

The US Nuclear Energy Institute hailed the Act as “a vote for continued American leadership in nuclear energy, environmental stewardship and thousands of jobs.” Similar production tax credits have been paid for output from unlimited wind and solar PV capacity for many years, indexed to inflation and hence now $23/MWh, coupled with priority grid access for these unreliable sources. These arrangements severely handicap the competitiveness of power from the 99 US established nuclear reactors.
WNN 12/2/18.  US NP

26 January & 2 February 2018

New Russian reactor on line

The fourth Rostov reactor in the Volga region has been connected to the grid, with Mr Putin there for the occasion.  The 1011 MWe (net) unit started up five weeks earlier.  It is Russia's 36th reactor in a fleet providing 18% of the country's electricity, and which will now meet more than half the demand in the southern region.  It is the last of the successful VVER-1000/V320 series of Russian reactors, and new construction is of 1200 MWe models.  From mid March, with the completion of a new grid link, it is reported that the Rostov power plant will supply Crimea, captured from Ukraine in 2014.
WNN 1/2/18.   Russia NP

US states call for action on used fuel

On the 20th anniversary of the US Department of Energy’s default on its obligation to take over management and disposal of used nuclear fuel, the national organization of state public utility commissions has called on the Trump administration and Congress to appropriate funds needed to restart the Yucca Mountain repository program. "It has been 36 years since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act became law and 20 years since the government defaulted on its obligation," the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners reminded the government. "We still have no nuclear repository, and worse yet, we don't even have the semblance of a nuclear waste program," he said. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, DOE was to begin disposing of utility spent fuel by January 31, 1998. The nuclear utilities would fund that program with a 0.1 cent per kilowatt hour fee collected from customers in relation to nuclear-generated electricity sold. Today all the used fuel remains, albeit safely and securely, at reactor sites.

DOE suspended collection of the fee in 2014 under a federal court order after it dismantled the repository program at Yucca Mountain, Nevada four years earlier, due to political pressure under the Obama administration. "The Nuclear Waste Fund currently has a balance well in excess of $30 billion and continues to earn interest of more than $1 billion a year, yet any progress on the program is constrained by the Congressional failure to provide meaningful funding." New legislation to address the matter is currently stalled in congress.
WNN 1/2/18.  US NFC

New reactor fuel gets corporate boost as Enfission is launched

Since the early days of nuclear power practically all nuclear reactor fuel has been as uranium oxide, a stable ceramic with high melting point. However, it has some features which are not ideal, and one stream of research has been returning to using metal fuels. The leader here has been Lightbridge, which has designed zirconium-uranium alloy 4-lobed fuel rods with much higher surface area than normal ones. The uranium has higher enrichment than usual to compensate for the alloy dilution which gives it a much higher melting point than pure uranium metal. However, because of the five times better thermal conductivity, the fuel actually functions at a much lower temperature than ceramic fuels. It is expected to give 17% more power in existing reactors with little modification, and 30% more in those designed for it. Its purpose is to improve both safety and economics.

In March 2016 Lightbridge entered into an exclusive joint development agreement with Areva NP (now Framatome) to set up a 50-50 US-based joint venture that would develop, fabricate and commercialize fuel assemblies based on the metallic fuel technology. This has now been launched as Enfission.  Framatome is a leading fuel manufacturer, with 27% of world capacity for light water reactor fuels. It is owned by EdF (75.5%), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (19.5%) and Assystem (5%). Several major US utilities - Exelon, Duke, Dominion and Southern Company - have been involved with Lightbridge’s development and the first use of the new fuel in a US commercial power reactor is expected about 2021, with commercial sales by 2026.
WNN 26/1/18.  Fuel fabrication


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