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

18 June 2021

G7 leaders reaffirm decarbon goals

Leaders of the G7 countries meeting in UK have committed to “an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s and to actions to accelerate this.” Hence they have pledged to accelerate deployment of ‘zero emissions energy’ including nuclear power. World Nuclear Association commented that “The G7 nations must turn their ambitions into actions and take all the steps necessary to maximise the contribution of nuclear power plants in operation today and ensure a rapid and substantial increase in nuclear new build.”
WNN 14/6/21.  

New Chinese reactor starts up

Unit 5 of the Hongyanhe nuclear power plant in China's Liaoning province has attained a sustained chain reaction for the first time. Construction of the 1080 MWe domestically-designed ACPR1000 pressurised water reactor started in March 2015 and was largely completed in 2019, but commissioning has been delayed.
WNN 17/6/21.   China NP

UK proposal to prioritise high-temperature gas-cooled reactors

Over 2015 to 2019 a number of well-supported proposals were put forward for small modular reactors in UK and in mid 2020 the government attempted to prioritise some of these. Now the Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University has published a Strategy for Action that aims to cut through the confusion. It set out eight actions required to assess objectively the role of nuclear power in achieving the government’s aim of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. These focused on early commissioning of a demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, with major consideration also paid to demonstrating hydrogen generation using nuclear heat. Then an ongoing review of all kinds of small modular reactors should be maintained and led by a body that is not conflicted by claims and lobbying by any particular proposer. R&D into closed fuel cycles should continue.
WNN 15/6/21.   UK

New initiatives for marine nuclear propulsion

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries have announced plans to work together on the development of a molten salt reactor (MSR) for marine propulsion and floating nuclear power plants. Samsung Heavy is also carrying out R&D into using ammonia and hydrogen to power ships in efforts to find alternative, low-emission propulsion options. Nuclear power is likely to be a key to producing these. The company’s president said that the "MSR is a carbon-free energy source that can efficiently respond to climate change issues and is a next-generation technology that meets the vision of Samsung Heavy Industries." It could put South Korea in a leading position globally for such technology.

Shipping is seen as a 'hard-to-abate' sector for decarbonisation. The UN’s International Maritime Organisation aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by 2050 from 2008 level, and eventually to eliminate them completely. IMO already has a code of safety for nuclear-propelled merchant ships and Lloyd's Register maintains a set of provisional rules for them. Lloyds earlier led a major study on the practical maritime applications of small modular reactors. This resulted in a preliminary concept design study for a 155,000 dwt Suezmax tanker based on a conventional hull with a 70 MWt nuclear propulsion plant delivering up to 23.5 MW shaft power and average: 9.75 MW. Since then, modular molten salt reactors of about 100 MWt have been seen as particularly suitable for marine propulsion due to ambient operating pressure and low-enriched fuel. The large shipping company X-Press Feeders is investing in Core Power (UK) Ltd, which is promoting for marine propulsion Southern Company and TerraPower’s molten chloride fast reactor as a modular MSR which would never require refuelling during its operational life.
WNN 11/6/21.  Nuclear powered ships

11 June 2021

Russia starts building innovative demonstration reactor

Rosatom’s fuel cycle company TVEL has started construction of the demonstration BREST-300 reactor at the Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) in Seversk. This is a new-generation fast neutron reactor which supersedes the sodium-cooled BN designs now operating at Beloyarsk. Lead cooling enables more efficient use of the dense mixed nitride uranium-plutonium (MNUP) fuel derived from recycled plutonium and depleted uranium. In a fast reactor the depleted uranium is transformed to fissile plutonium. The fuel has been extensively tested in the BN-600 reactor at Beloyarsk since 2015, and by the end of last year more than 1000 MNUP fuel assemblies had been produced in SCC’s pilot plant.

The BREST project is remarkable because it is an integral part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex (PDEC) which comprises three elements: a mixed uranium-plutonium nitride fuel fabrication/re-fabrication module; a nuclear power plant with BREST-300 reactor; and a used nuclear fuel reprocessing module (for 2024 operation). The combination enables a fully closed fuel cycle on one site. In November 2019 SCC awarded a contract to Titan-2 to build the first BREST unit and in February 2021 Rostechnadzor issued a construction licence for it.

If BREST is successful as a 300 MWe unit, a 1200 MWe (2800 MWt) version will follow. Rosatom's long-term strategy up to 2050 involves moving to inherently safe nuclear plants using fast reactors with a closed fuel cycle and MOX or nitride fuel.
WNN 8/6/21.   Russia NP

UK nuclear plant closed down

Due to costs and complications in refurbishment, EDF Energy has decided to defuel and finally retire the two advanced gas-cooled reactors at the Dungeness B nuclear plant in Kent.  The 1090 MWe (net) plant has not operated since September 2018, having started generation in 1983. This is one of three AGR plants which have experienced problems with age cracking in the graphite moderator. The company has already announced plans for early closure this year of the 965 MWe Hinkley Point B and 985 MWe Hunterston B plants for this reason. Each has twin AGR reactors. Thus 3040 MWe of AGR capacity – six reactors - will retire for decommissioning this year, leaving four twin AGR plants and one PWR operating, total 5883 MWe. The UK's fleet of seven AGRs have met around 20% of the country’s electricity needs over the last four decades. They are unique to UK and have a high thermal efficiency.

At Hinkley Point in Somerset EDF Energy is building two new French EPR units of 1720 MWe each, the ‘C’ plant, due online in 2026 and 2027. China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) has a one-third share in this project. EDF has plans to build more: twin EPRs at Sizewell, with 20% share by CGN, and then with CGN being the major partner and EDF 33.5%, twin Chinese 1150 MWe Hualong One reactors at Bradwell, near London. CGN built and operates the only two completed EPR units, at Taishan in Guangdong province.
WNN 8/6/21.  UK

4 June 2021

Canadian prospects for GE Hitachi small reactor

PwC Canada has produced a major report on the substantial economic benefits of manufacturing, building and operating GE Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular reactors in Canada for the local market and for export. GEH commissioned the report and claims that "As the tenth evolution of the boiling water reactor, the BWRX-300 represents the simplest, yet most innovative BWR design since GE began developing nuclear reactors in 1955."

GEH aims to commercialise and manufacture the BWRX-300 in partnership with Ontario Power Generation (OPG). This would involve a local supply chain and possibly the first commercial deployment of a grid-scale SMR in Canada. The collaboration would provide a base for future SMR deployment in Canada and internationally. OPG has been considering the BWRX-300 and two other designs - Terrestrial’s 192 MWe Integral Molten Salt Reactor, and X-energy’s 80 MWe Xe-100 high-temperature reactor - as possible SMRs for its Darlington site.
WNN 3/6/21.  Small reactors, Canada NP

US budget application includes strong provision for nuclear energy

The Administration’s budget request for the Department of Energy in FY22 totals $46.2 billion, with a "record" $1.85 billion for the Office of Nuclear Energy. This includes over $370 million for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme which aims to build advanced reactors within the next six years, cost-shared with developers. Two thirds of this is to demonstrate two advanced reactor technologies, one developed by X-energy and the second by TerraPower. The two companies received $80 million each from DOE last year, as part of a multi-year $3.2 billion program to build two advanced reactors that can be operational by about 2026. TerraPower has just announced plans to build a 345 MWe demonstration Natrium fast reactor unit with heat storage in Wyoming. This is essentially a GE Hitachi PRISM design based on substantial US experience. X-energy’s 80 MWe Xe-100 high-temperature pebble bed reactor, also with significant antecedents, is the other type.

The budget request also includes $145 million for the Versatile Test Reactor Project, which aims to provide fast neutron testing capability to aid US development of advanced nuclear reactor technology. Both these represent very large increases from FY21. The Fuel Cycle Research and Development program includes $368.5 million for advanced fuel cycle technologies including “high-assay low-enriched uranium for civilian domestic use”. It also aims to lay the groundwork for the development of a consent-based siting process to support consolidated interim storage for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

In addition to the civil nuclear energy programs, the Pentagon has requested $60 million to fund Project Pele, a program for building a transportable nuclear microreactor (under 5 MWe) to deliver high-output, resilient electric power for Defense Department missions.
WNN 2/6/21.   US NP

First Belarus reactor in commercial operation

Belarusian regulator Gosatomnadzor has issued the full operating licence for Ostrovets 1 so that the country’s first nuclear power station is now cleared for commercial operation. The VVER-1200 reactor of 1109 MWe was connected to the grid in December. A second unit is about a year behind it.
WNN 3/6/21.   Belarus

New Chinese reactor in commercial operation

After connecting to the grid in May, Tianwan 6 has completed tests and in now in commercial operation. Units 5 & 6 are locally-designed ACPR1000 reactors of 1080 MWe net.  Units 7 & 8 at the site will be Russian VVER-1200 units, and the first is under construction.
WNN 3/6/21.  China NP

28 May 2021

Large Chinese reactor in Pakistan in commercial operation

The 1100 MWe Karachi unit 2 has commenced commercial operation in Pakistan. It is the first in a pair of Hualong One (HPR1000) reactors at the site, and was built in 67 months by China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Group Co.
WNN 21/5/21.   Pakistan

French report points to nuclear power for hydrogen

A new report from the French Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment (OPECST) said that only nuclear and hydro power could realistically produce low-carbon hydrogen, since the cost of green hydrogen from renewables would be four times as great. Due to their high capital cost, “electrolysers must be made profitable by lengthening the duration of their use (a minimum threshold of 5000 hours per year and an optimal threshold of up to 8000 h/year), which the intermittency of renewables does not allow (2000-4000 h/year). In this regard, only nuclear energy and hydroelectricity present the double advantage of being controllable and carbon-free," the report says. 

Worldwide, 70 million tonnes per year of hydrogen could be supplied by 400 GWe of nuclear capacity, it said. There is also a question of whether electrolysers fed by intermittent renewables take all the electricity from those sources, or only the surplus over grid requirements, resulting in much lower usage.
WNN 21/5/21.  Hydrogen

Industry plea for rational risk assessment

World Nuclear Association has published a new White Paper on Recalibrating Risk, calling upon policymakers and regulators to review their perceptions of risk. They need to adopt a science-based, all-hazards risk assessment that holistically evaluates the contributions of different energy sources and sets a level playing field. Different risks associated with energy producing technologies must be put in context and perspective then weighed in line with proper scientific evidence. Policymakers and regulators must ensure that their prejudices and decisions regarding radiation protection do not create greater risks elsewhere. The perception of nuclear power as being uniquely dangerous endures, despite its safety record being unmatched by any other energy source.

Disproportionately focusing on the risks posed by radiation is likely to result in the acceptance of other, more significant, risks such as air pollution from fossil fuels. This is reflected in the regulatory burden placed on the nuclear industry, which is geared towards an “as low as possible” approach, demanding radiation levels to be far below the levels where health effects have been observed, and in many cases below natural background radiation. This has resulted in higher costs, without delivering any additional health benefits and policymakers have tended to choose other energy sources. If those alternatives have been fossil fuels, there are air pollution and climate change implications. If they are intermittent renewables, reliability is compromised and cost increased at high levels of contribution.

Nuclear power’s demonstrated contribution to global decarbonization is often disregarded, with any advance towards Paris Agreement goals and Sustainable Development goals thereby being downgraded.
WNN 27/5/21.   Safety of NP,

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