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

15 January 2021

India connects new reactor to grid

Unit 3 of the Kakrapar nuclear power plant in India's Gujarat state has been connected to the electricity grid after 122 months construction. The reactor - the country's first indigenously designed 700 MWe pressurised heavy water reactor - achieved criticality in July last year. A second one is under construction at Kakrapar, and two more at Rajasthan. India plans to put 21 new nuclear power reactors - including 10 indigenously designed PHWRs - with a combined generating capacity of 15,700 MWe into operation by 2031, the Department of Atomic Energy announced two years ago. It has 23 reactors operating, total almost 7000 MWe.
WNN 11/1/21.      India

International waste repository organisation launched in Europe

The European Repository Development Organisation (ERDO) has been launched by Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, with other countries, notably Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, expected to join soon. It aims for member countries to collaborate in safely managing long-lived radioactive wastes, including establishing shared multinational geological repositories. All have small individual requirements. Previously the national organisations had worked together for ten years in the ERDO Working Group. This was founded with support of 10 EU Member States in 2009. It followed comprehensive feasibility studies (the SAPIERR projects) into multinational disposal in Europe, organised by the Arius Association and funded by the European Commission. Fourteen European countries were involved in SAPIERR and 13 are, or have been, involved with ERDO work over the past decade. SAPIERR was based on a recognition in the EU that implementing 25 national repositories would not be optimal economically or for safety and security.

While there is clear and unequivocal understanding that each country is ethically and legally responsible for its own waste, there have been several proposals for regional and international repositories for disposal of high-level nuclear waste, and in 2003 the concept received strong endorsement from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The default position is that all nuclear waste will be disposed of in each of the 50 or so countries concerned. The main ingredients of high-level nuclear waste are created in the nuclear reactors which make the electricity in 31 countries and function as neutron factories in many more. They are not simply left-overs from imported uranium. There is thus no obligation on uranium suppliers in respect to the waste, other than that involved in safeguards procedures.

Apart from ERDO which is focused on small volumes of waste, there have been proposals for large-scale international repositories, most recently from the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle in 2016.
WNN 8/1/21.   International repositories

Australia’s Ranger Uranium mine closes down

After almost 40 years of operation and the production of 132,000 tonnes of uranium oxide (112,000 tU), Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) Ranger mine 230 km east of Darwin has closed down due to expiry of its operating licence and refusal of traditional owners of the land to extend it. Substantial resources remain – about 37,000 tU in an orebody extending to 500 m deep.  Production since 2012 has been from stockpiled ore, as a massive rehabilitation project ramped up. This is to return the site to something like its original condition by 2026, with tailings in mine pits. It will then be incorporated into the surrounding Kakadu National Park. The mine closure plan is here: https://www.energyres.com.au/sustainability/closureplan  Some A$ 642 million has been spent on rehabilitation and water management since 2012. The town of Jabiru 8 km away will become simply a tourist centre. For the last 20 years ERA has been a subsidiary of Rio Tinto.
WNN 8/1/21.   Australia

8 January 2021

China starts building new nuclear power plant

On new year’s eve China General Nuclear Corp (CGN) commenced construction of the first unit at San’ao Cangnan nuclear power plant in Zhejiang province.  This is a Hualong One reactor of 1150 MWe gross, the first of six planned there. Two units of phase 1 are expected to cost $5.54 billion, partly from private capital – 2% from Geely Technology Group.
WNN 4/1/21.      China NP

Small increase in world nuclear capacity in 2020

Last year five new reactors came on line in China, Russia, Belarus and UAE. These totalled 5631 MWe net. A further reactor in India, 630 MWe, is in the process of coming on line. Uprates mostly in USA totalled 188 MWe, and there were seven construction starts, in China and Turkey, total 6875 MWe. These include a fast neutron reactor and small modular reactor in China. However, six reactors totalling 5165 MWe were finally closed down in four countries; each had operated 43 to 46 years. At the end of 2020 there were 441 operable reactors totalling 392,434 MWe in 31 countries plus Taiwan, according to WNA data. Over 50 reactors in 19 countries were under construction. In 2021 about 15 new reactors are expected on line, including an innovative Chinese high-temperature gas-cooled reactor.
NP in World today

Iran stokes Western world fears with step towards weapons material

Since 1970 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has curbed the aspirations of countries wanting to develop nuclear weapons by promoting cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy and dissuading activities which are potentially weapons-related. With very few exceptions (eg North Korea, Pakistan) this has restricted nuclear weapons to six countries. 

Iran has been the focus of attention since a major clandestine uranium enrichment program became evident in 2002. In 2006 the UN Security Council called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. This was ignored. Quite independently of this, since 2011 Iran has had a large Russian nuclear power reactor operating, providing about 3% of its electricity. All the fuel is provided by Russia. A second such reactor is under construction.

Following considerable international expressions of concern about the uranium enrichment program, and related sanctions, Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) with the European Union signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) in July 2015. Under its terms, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67% U-235. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has now informed its Member States that this week Iran began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1% U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at one of its three enrichment plants for further enrichment up to 20%. While enriching from 4% up to 20% U-235 is quite a major step, less energy is required to upgrade 20% enriched uranium to weapons grade.

The UK, French and German foreign ministers have now said "We are deeply concerned by the commencement by Iran on the 4th of January of uranium enrichment up to 20% at the underground facility of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. This action, which has no credible civil justification and carries very significant proliferation-related risks, is in clear violation of Iran’s commitments under the JCPoA and further hollows out the Agreement." It added: "This is a serious negative development which ….. risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration. We strongly urge Iran to stop enriching uranium to up to 20% without delay, reverse its enrichment programme to the limits agreed in the JCPoA and to refrain from any further escalatory steps which would further reduce the space for effective diplomacy."
WNN 7/1/21.   Iran, Safeguards, Enrichment

25 & 31 December 2020

China starts building second demonstration fast reactor

Construction work has started on a second CFR-600 fast-neutron reactor at Xiapu in Fujian province. These comprise China’s demonstration fast reactor (CDFR) project, part of a plan to achieve a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Construction of unit 1 started in late 2017. They are sodium-cooled, pool-type reactors, with fuel from TVEL, a subsidiary of Russia's Rosatom,

China's research and development on fast neutron reactors started early, and a 65 MWt fast neutron reactor - the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) - was designed by 2003 and built near Beijing by Russia's OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and the Kurchatov Institute. It achieved first criticality in July 2010 and was grid-connected a year later to supply 20 MWe. Ongoing fuel is mixed-oxide (MOX). The two CDFR units are the next step in China Institute of Atomic Energy's (CIAE) program. Xiapu 1 is expected to be grid-connected in 2023. The reactors will be 1500 MWt, 600 MWe, with high thermal efficiency, using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel with 100 GWd/t burn-up. Later fuel will be metal with higher burn-up. Breeding ratio is about 1.1, design operational lifetime 40 years.

Russia is the world’s leader in fast-neutron reactor technology and has helped China considerably in this. However, the CDFR project represents a distinct Chinese step forward independent of established Russian designs though it still draws on Russian assistance. When the CDFR is proven, a CFR-1000 is envisaged as a full commercial design with almost twice the power. CIAE projections show a rapid expansion of fast reactors from mid-century, taking over from conventional reactors, but this is not official policy.
WNN 29/12/20.      China NP, China FC

UK leaves the European Union but maintains nuclear cooperation

Brexit on 31 December was preceded by signing a nuclear cooperation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). This has been approved by all EU member states and takes effect on 1 January.  The agreement provides a framework for continuing trade in nuclear materials and technology, facilitates research and development, and enables exchange of information and expertise including on medical radioisotopes. It includes continuing involvement with the ITER fusion project.

Though the 1957 Euratom Treaty precedes the founding of the EU, it governs the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the EU. Euratom is a separate legal entity from the EU, but it is governed by the bloc's institutions.
WNN 29 & 30/12/20.   UK, EU

Sweden’s Ringhals 1 reactor closes down

After 44 years’ service, the Ringhals 1 nuclear power reactor on Sweden’s west coast, an 881 MWe boiling water reactor, has closed down. The owners, Vattenfall (70.4%) and Sydkraft (29.6%) cite commercial reasons. Unit 2 at the site was closed a year ago, but Ringhals 3 & 4 are expected to operate for at least 60 years, through to the 2040s.  Nuclear power provides about 40% of Sweden’s electricity, now from six reactors, the others being three at Forsmark and one at Oskarshamn. Hydro provides a similar amount, depending on annual precipitation. Sweden uniquely levied a capacity tax on nuclear power until 2019, which added about EUR 7.50/MWh to costs and made routine upgrading especially of Ringhals 1 & 2 uneconomic.

There is some prospect of building replacement nuclear power capacity in Sweden, at Ringhals, though there are no firm plans and energy policy is hostage to political alliances. Public support for nuclear is strong.
WNN 31/12/20.   Sweden

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