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

19 April 2019

Russia starts construction of large new reactor

Main construction work for the second unit at Kursk II in Russia has begun two weeks ahead of schedule, with first concrete poured for the base plate. The site close to the Ukraine border is the first to use the 1255 MWe VVER-TOI (typical optimised, with enhanced information) reactor design incorporating a new steel alloy in its enlarged pressure vessel. It is the most advanced Russian PWR design and is capable of load-following. Eventually four units will replace four RBMK reactors which came on line over 1977 to 1986 as these each reach about 45 years operation.
WNN 15/4/19.   Russia NP

South Korea starts up large new reactor

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power has started up its new Shin Kori 4 reactor and plans to connect it to the electricity grid at the end of this month. It will provide 1380 MWe alongside its twin, unit 3, which was connected to the grid in January 2016.  KHNP expects unit 4 to reach full commercial operation in September. Construction of two further APR1400 reactors there - units 5 and 6 - began in April 2017 and September 2018 respectively, and two others are under construction at Ulchin: Shin Hanul 1&2.  Four of these APR1400 reactors are nearly ready to operate at Barakah in the UAE, and other export initiatives are ongoing.
WNN 18/4/19. S.Korea

US states lead clean energy push for electricity

In the absence of federal initiatives, US states are pushing ahead with ambitious targets for clean energy, particularly for electricity generation. At present almost 20% of US electricity is from nuclear power, 7% from hydro and about 10% from other renewables. As the limitations of wind and solar become more evident, nuclear power comes into the discussion more strongly, along with carbon capture and storage (CCS) on fossil fuel plants, though this has yet to be demonstrated on any scale for power plants. The Energy Information Administration expects 31% of US electricity to be generated from renewables in 2050, which leaves a lot of room for other clean sources.

In March the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont affirmed their commitment “to work together, in coordination with [regional grid operator] ISO New England and through the New England States Committee on Electricity, to evaluate market-based mechanisms that value the contribution that existing nuclear generation resources make to regional energy security and winter reliability.”

Meanwhile New York state, Illinois and New Jersey all have some form of zero emission credits (ZECs) legislated for nuclear power, to preserve reliability and clean energy benefits not recognized in the electricity markets. This week New Jersey approved awarding of ZECs of about $11/MWh for two nuclear plants, total 3.7 GWe. Connecticut has a corresponding arrangement. Ohio and Pennsylvania have similar legislation in process. The levels of state support per MWh are significantly less than the federal production tax credit of $23/MWh for wind, amounting to some $4.8 billion last year, though this provision will start to phase out from 2021.
WNN 18/3/19, 16/4/19.  US NP

5 & 12 April 2019

US nuclear utilities boost electric vehicle infrastructure

Several US electric power companies with a high proportion of zero-carbon nuclear generation are investing in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Increased sales of EVs – whether pure battery or plug-in hybrid types - creates significant extra demand for electricity for charging, particularly at night if using typical 16 amp (2 or 4 kW) mode. If that electricity is from fossil fuels there is little advantage in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

Duke Energy plans to help fund nearly 2,500 new charging stations as well as electric school buses in North Carolina. Xcel Energy is promoting expansion of EV use in Minnesota. Exelon, which operates 22 nuclear power reactors, is helping its customers transition to EVs and is also an investor in ChargePoint, said to be the world’s largest EV charging network. 

In 2017, 1.1 million electric cars were sold, taking the global fleet to 3.1 million. Electric buses have a significant role in China - Shenzhen's fleet of 16,400 buses of various sizes run by three companies are all electric. The buses cost more than three times the diesel equivalent, but purchases were significantly subsidised, and high capital costs are offset by lower operating costs. One million EV cars are expected to require 3-4 TWh per year worldwide, and Bloomberg expects that EVs including buses will need 1,900 TWh per year by 2040, about 6% of global electricity demand, though other projections are lower.
NEI Overview 11/4/19.   Electric vehicles

Egypt issues site approval for large nuclear plant

The Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority has issued a site approval permit for the El Dabaa site, near El Alamein, west of Alexandria. The permit, which is for four large nuclear power units, acknowledges that the site complies with national and international requirements, following a review mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is the first milestone in the licensing process expected to take two years.  The site was selected in 1983 but plans for nuclear power have fluctuated along with the country’s political situation since. In mid 2015 Rosatom submitted a bid to build four 1200 MWe reactors on a turnkey basis and a contract was signed in December 2017. The cost of $25 billion will be 85% financed by a Russian state export loan.

The reactors will be a warm-water version of the V-491 at Leningrad II, but with significant desalination capacity taking about 13% of the heat from the secondary circuit, they are expected to provide 1050 MWe gross, 927 MWe net. Egypt has long been reliant on natural gas for power generation and the cost of electricity from the nuclear plant is expected to be very much less.

The state Nuclear Power Plants Authority has been assessing the El Nagila area 80km east of Port Said to identify a suitable site for a second 4-unit nuclear power plant. South Korea and China have indicated strong interest in such a project.
WNN 10/4/19.  Egypt

Belarus prepares to fire up first nuclear power

Russian contractor AtomStroyExport has announced the start of commissioning for Belarus’ first nuclear power plant at Ostrovets in the Grodno region near the border with Lithuania. Two VVER-1200 reactors are being built, based on those at St Petersburg, to provide 1109 MWe net each, which together will meet almost half the country’s demand and reduce reliance on Russian natural gas. 

Economic assessment using methodology from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that nuclear would be competitive, with overnight costs $1960/kW and levelized electricity cost 5.81 cent/kWh (compared with coal $1175/kW and 6.52 cent/kWh, and gas $805/kW and 6.76 cent/kWh). Russian finance covers 90% of the cost.
WNN 8/4/19.  Belarus

22 & 29 March 2019

US nuclear construction gets small boost

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has finalised further federal loan guarantees of $3.7 billion for Vogtle units 3 and 4, two AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia. This brings to $12 billion the total of loan guarantees for five owners of the project which has been delayed by the Westinghouse bankruptcy, with increase in cost. Congress has also approved $800 million in tax credits for the project. The US Secretary of Energy said that "The Vogtle project is critically important to …. revitalize and expand the US nuclear industry. A strong nuclear industry supports a reliable and resilient grid, and strengthens our energy and national security." The announcement coincided with fitting of the top head of the unit 3 containment.

Under the 2005 Energy Policy Act there is provision for federal loan guarantees for advanced nuclear reactors or other emission-free technologies up to 80% of the project cost. The first round of guarantees went to renewable energy and advanced gas projects (eg IGCC). From 2008, up to $18.5 billion was then offered for nuclear power projects. The loan guarantees are ultimately funded by the borrowers through a fee, and they reduce financing cost by demonstrating government support for particular projects which have undergone thorough scrutiny by DOE and its outside advisers, without cost to the taxpayer.
WNN 22/3/19.  US NP

New Russian reactor starts up

Unit 2 of the Novovoronezh II nuclear power plant has achieved criticality. This is the third VVER-1200 reactor in Russia, of two slightly different designs.
WNN 25/3/19.  Russia NP

Russia completes refurbishment of Smolensk plant

Refurbishment of the Smolensk nuclear power plant close to the Belarus border has been completed, and unit 3 has returned to service. The three RBMK reactors started up 1983-1990, licensed for 30 years. They are pressurised water-cooled reactors with individual fuel channels and they use graphite as moderator. Significant design modifications to units 1&2 were made after the Chernobyl accident, and unit 3 was built to revised design. Following a $1.5 billion program from 2012 involving extensive refurbishment including replacement of fuel channels, the 1000 MWe units now have 45-year lifetimes. They provide 13% of Russia’s nuclear power generation.
WNN 28/3/19, Russia NP

International Energy Agency highlights CO2 concern

The OECD International Energy Agency (IEA) has published its Global Energy & CO2 Status Report, which documents both 2.3% increased energy demand in 2018, and much increased CO2 emissions. The main primary energy demand growth was for gas, but coal was also significant in India and China. Coal contributed 30% of global CO2 emissions.

Electricity generation rose 4% to over 26,700 TWh, with renewables and nuclear power meeting most of this increase. China’s electricity demand increased by 8.5%, India’s grew by 5.4%. Global emissions from power generation increased 2.5% and reached 13 Gt CO2, 38% of all energy-related CO2 emissions. Nuclear power accounted to 10% of electricity overall – 2,724 TWh, and coal remained the largest source of electricity generation at 38% of total, with 10,116 TWh. Gas had almost 240 TWh growth to over 6,091 TWh, and it overtook coal in USA.
WNN 27/3/19.  Climate change: policy responses

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