Defense Dept Plans Mobile Microreactor for Idaho Lab Site
- Sep 26, 2021 6:29 pm GMT
- Defense Dept Plans Mobile Microreactor for Idaho Lab Site
- South Africa to Release a Tender for 2500 MWe of Nuclear Reactors in 2022
- US Spreads Pro-Nuclear Promises of Support in Europe
- MOUs are Flying as U.S. SMR Vendors Ink Agreements with Polish Firms
- Post Script: Is the “Opportunity” Real for Nuclear Energy in Poland?
Defense Dept Plans Mobile Microreactor for Idaho Lab Site
In a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), the Department of Defense (DOD) said on 09/24/21 that it is requesting public comment on a plan to build an “advanced microreactor” on a site at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID.
The device as planned would be designed to produce between one and five MWe of electrical power. It would need to be able to provide this power on a 24×7 basis for three full years without refueling. It would need to be transportable by truck, train, or plane and to be set up or packaged to be moved in under a week. INL is served by a spur of the Union Pacific Railroad that connects to the line that runs from Pocatello, ID, to Butte, MT, which makes it suitable for testing this capability.
In its request for comments on the draft EIS, for which the public has 45 days to respond, DOD said powering [military] bases using diesel generators strains operations due to threats to fuel supply lines. The need for secure, reliable power is expected to grow during a transition to an electrical, non-tactical vehicle fleet.
DOD said that a safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address a growing demand for electricity “with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that does not add to the DOD’s fossil fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote environments.”
In the 314-page draft EIS DOD said it wants to reduce reliance on local electric grids, which are vulnerable to prolonged outages from natural disasters, cyberattacks, domestic terrorism and failure from lack of maintenance. In short, it does not want tactical readiness of a military base compromised by a range of plausible grid outages or by hostile actions. It is envisioned that the microreactors would eventually be used on U.S. bases overseas assuming the host countries don’t object.
Opposition to the plan came from Edwin Lyman, the arch druid of anti-nuclear messages at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He told the Associated Press, “In my view, these reactors could cause more logistical problems and risks to troops and property than they would solve problems.”
Lyman added that the reactors would be targets for hostile action including during times they are being transported to a military base.
The Defense Department said a final environmental impact statement and decision about how or whether to move forward is expected in early 2022. If approved, preparing testing sites at the Idaho National Lab and then building and testing of the microreactor would take about three years.
Completion of the construction and testing of a prototype depends on a steady stream of congressional funding. Earlier this year the House Appropriations Committee zeroed out funding for the Versatile Test Reactor despite years of work by the Department of Energy to make the case for it.
Two Contractors Selected in a Bake Off to Build the Prototype
The Department of Defense (DOD) said on March 22 of this year that it exercised contract options for two teams, one led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and the other by X-energy, to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable advanced nuclear microreactor prototype. The two teams were selected from a preliminary design competition, and will each continue development independently under a Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) initiative called Project Pele.
Project Pele is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor, which, once prototyped, could serve as a pathfinder for commercial adoption of such technologies, thereby reducing US carbon emissions and providing new tools for disaster relief and critical infrastructure support.
After a final design review in early 2022 and completion of environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of the two companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.
“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” said Dr Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager.
“We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”
BWXT said in a press statement last March that it received $28M for the 2nd round of the project. In the first round it received $14M. X-Energy also received $14M for the 1st round and is eligible to receive up to $30M in this 2nd round. Westinghouse, which was a third competitor in the first round, offering its advanced eVinci microreactor, was not selected by DOD for funding in the 2nd round. If approved, the selected contractor would prepare a test site at the Idaho National Lab and then build and test the design selected for the microreactor. Additional funding would be needed for this stage of the program.
About the EIS
The Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office released a draft environmental impact statement for building and demonstrating a mobile microreactor. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the SCO published a notice of availability in the Federal Register, starting a 45-day public comment period on the draft EIS.
Two public hearings will be held in Idaho and livestreamed online on Oct. 20. More details about the public hearings and the draft EIS are available online at https://www.MobileMicroReactorEIS.com The public is invited to submit written comments through the website during the public comment period. A final EIS and record of decision regarding potential construction and testing are expected in early 2022.
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South Africa to Release a Tender for 2500 MWe of Nuclear Reactors in 2022
Speaking on at the 65th International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ) gathering in Vienna, Austria, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Nobuhle Nkabane said this week the country intends to issue the Request for Proposal for a 2 500 megawatt (MWe) nuclear program at the end of March 2022 and complete the procurement in 2024.
She added that in June 2020 South Africa issued a Request for Information for the 2500MW of nuclear energy and received positive responses from 25 companies. She said these responds show there is interest in the program.
South Africa abandoned a plan for 9600 MWe of nuclear power in 2018 after it was deemed to be too expensive. A proposal to build and operate eight 1200 MWe Russian VVER reactors, promoted by then South African President Jacob Zuma, was rejected for this reason and for the unfavorable terms, which among other things, locked the country into buying fuel and maintenance from Russia for their 60 year operating life.
South Africa, which experiences regular blackouts due to erratic power supplies, has said it said it will look to expand its nuclear capacity at a pace and time it could afford.
In the meantime Nkabane said said that the Koeberg Power Station (1900 MWe) design life span was being extended by another 20 years.
Last month, South Africa’s energy regulator backed a long-term government plan to build new nuclear power units. This decision will help to shift the country away from coal and into less carbon-intensive means of generating electricity.
Most of South Africa’s electricity comes from a fleet of coal-fired power plants. A recently opened coal fired plant was shut down just a week after commencing operations due to a massive explosion of leaking hydrogen that substantially damaged the facility.
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UK Government In Talks to Revive Abandoned Wylfa Nuclear Project
(NucNet) US company Westinghouse wants to build its AP1000 reactor technology at the north Wales site.
The British government is in discussions with US nuclear reactor manufacturer Westinghouse to develop up to three 1150 MWe AP1000 PWR type nuclear reactors at the Wylfa Newydd site in Anglesey, Wales. If the project goes through, US engineering firm Bechtel would be the EPC to build a Westinghouse AP1000 reactor.
Neither firm brings any investors to the table which places the burden on the UK government to round up a combination of public funding as well as private money.
In terms of investors for the Wylfa project, wire service reports in the UK indicate that a number of pension funds have also expressed interest in building reactors at Wylfa. According to the Times of London, Simon Forster, director of UK clean energy company Shearwater, which is interested in taking on the project, told MPs he was in contact with a “group of pension funds who are very keen to invest” in the project.
Japan’s Hitachi walked away from a plan to build two 1350 MWe ABWR nuclear reactors at Wylfa, and another two at Oldbury, after the government low balled its proposed level of financing for the projects. Hitachi was also reportedly concerned that the UK government was not reliable as a partner due to the looming BREXIT plan separating the UK from the European Union. The cost of the project had been put at about £20 billion.
What is driving the renewed interest in the site is that government Ministers are reportedly concerned existing nuclear projects do not support the country’s ambition of reducing its carbon rates. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is reported to be having reservations that by the early-2030s there will not be enough nuclear power to phase out gas power. He is understood to back plans to build a new plant at Wylfa, and is lobbying the Treasury to seek private investment.
It has finally dawned on the UK government that its ambitious plans for wind power and natural gas are not enough to meet demand for electricity and that a commitment to nuclear power is urgently needed to keep the lights on,
Current plans are to complete two 1650 MWe EPR units under construction by EDF at Hinkley Point C, and a proposal for two new similar EPR units at Sizewell C, Suffolk, which is in advanced planning stages.
The timeline for EDF to decide whether to go ahead with the £20bn Sizewell C project has reportedly slipped because of a lengthy planning approval process and continuing negotiations over funding. The UK government and local jurisdictions have tied the project up in a tangled net of red tape. The French state-owned energy company had been hoping to make a decision this year, but now expects to leave it until up to 2023 before deciding whether to proceed, press reports said.
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US Spreads Pro-Nuclear Promises of Support in Europe
In a multi-country trip, 24 in all, that included several European nations the DOE Secretary focused her eye on stemming Russia’s growing control over Europe’s energy security, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm reached for the brass ring of market share.
She said in a press briefing the climate crisis presents “a market opportunity for carbon-reducing technologies” such as nuclear power.
If anyone doubts the stakes, Granholm put a number on them saying there is a $23 trillion market for nuclear energy in countries in Central and Eastern Europe by 2030. They include Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states among others.
In Poland, Granholm expressed “our strong support for the Three Seas Initiative”, which brings together 12 EU countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia – between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas.
The U.S. views the Three Seas Initiative as a vehicle to win the geopolitical battle for ‘hearts and minds’ in the region, in a bid to reduce Chinese and Russian influence there especially with regard to nuclear energy projects.
In addition to geopolitical considerations, for Granholm, transatlantic cooperation on clean energy is becoming more urgent due to climate change.
“Nuclear energy is the reason we’re here,” she said.
“Our collaboration to develop Poland’s civil nuclear program is vital to Poland achieving EU carbon reduction targets and to guarantee its energy security,” Granholm said. “That dispatchable, clean, uninterruptable power is the gold standard of what every nation is looking for” in their quest to reduce CO2.”
Granholm admitted that not everybody in Europe is comfortable with nuclear energy. “But I will say that, for countries that do want it, we cannot afford to ignore clean, safe, reliable sources of energy.”
Austria and Germany are hard over in anti-nuclear energy policies and both nations have meddled aggressively with the plans of other EU countries to pursue nuclear energy projects. This hasn’t deterred the U.S.
“The reason we’re here in Poland is because we have been talking about a partnership in the area of nuclear,” Granholm said. “We’re really excited that we may have this partnership here with Poland”.
In October last year, Warsaw and Washington signed a 30-year intergovernmental agreement on future cooperation in the development of the Polish civil nuclear energy program. The problem is setting reasonable expectations. In October 2020 then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a grandiose promise of $18 billion in financial support to Poland to help with its plan to build six full size nuclear reactors by the end of the 2030 or early 2040s.
The problem for Poland is assessing whether the U.S. will keep that problematic promise. President Biden is in the midst of asking Congress to spend trillions of dollars on domestic infrastructure which may not leave much headroom for a financial commitment like the one Pompeo made in the closing days of the Trump administration.
Warsaw expects its first nuclear power station to start operating in 2033. A total of 6-9 GW of nuclear power is expected to be installed by 2043. The Polish energy ministry said the cost would be an estimated €4.66 million per MWe. Pompeo’s promised financial support works out to about half of the costs.
Also on Pompeo’s mind was on a key concept of American foreign aid which is “buy American” which may rub a few other vendors, notably France’s EDF, the wrong way. That country is already bent out of shape over a submarine deal that went south.
American firms aren’t waiting to see if the U.S. is ready to write checks to build. In July, Westinghouse announced the launch of a front-end engineering and design study – or FEED – under a grant from the US Trade Development Agency to advance Poland’s nuclear energy program. It also opened an office in Poland.
“It’s an opportunity to give American technology to help meet Poland’s clean-energy needs, and Westinghouse is going to offer its AP1000 nuclear reactor for the project,” Granholm said.
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MOUs are Flying as U.S. SMR Vendors Ink Agreements with Polish Firms
NuScale Signs MOU withe Polish Mining Firm
KGHM, the Polish copper and silver mining giant, has signed a joint commitment with NuScale Power to develop its small modular reactor (SMR) for electricity and process heat applications. In accordance with its signed commitment, KGHM Polska Miedz will not only be a recipient of the final product, but will also actively participate in the development of this technology.
NuScale Power, Getka Group (Getka) and UNIMOT S.A. (UNIMOT) announced the three companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with business purposes including to explore the deployment of NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology as a coal repurposing solution for existing coal-fired power plants in Poland.
Getka is an Oklahoma-based integrated energy company providing construction, and delivery of petroleum, refined products, and alternative energy. Through its Zero Impact Strategy, Getka is focused on reducing emissions output through renewable energy.
UNIMOT is a Poland-based multi-energy Capital Group that offers its wholesale and retail customers fuel products, gas and electricity, including renewable energy. This agreement demonstrates the value of international partnership and collaboration in utilizing NuScale’s SMR technology to repurpose coal plants across the country.
Under the MOU, NuScale will support Getka and UNIMOT’s assessment of NuScale’s SMR technology to replace coal-fueled power plants and more broadly for new nuclear plant implementations in Poland. The examination will include an analysis of technical, economic, legal, regulatory, financial, and organizational factors.
Marcin Chludzinski, President of the Management Board of KGHM Polska Miedz SA said; “The changes in the climate are forcing us to take decisive actions. We are already feeling the impact, including in a financial sense, connected among others with the increases in energy prices. The construction of small nuclear reactors by 2030 is a solid declaration and an element our energy transformation. We are pioneers in Poland, as we expect that the first of our nuclear power plants will come online in 2029.”
“This project aligns with our commitment to decarbonize and diversify Poland’s energy infrastructure,” said Dariusz Cichocki, Chairman and CEO of Getka Group. “Through our ongoing partnership with UNIMOT, we are pleased to partner with NuScale to bring innovative solutions to market in Central Europe.”
GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 Gets a Boost in MOU with Poland’s Synthos Green Energy
Cameco, GE Hitachi, GEH SMR Canada and Synthos Green Energy announced they will collaborate on potential deployment of the BWRX-300 small modular reactors in Poland.
The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s U.S. NRC-certified ESBWR. Through innovative design simplification, GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MWe when compared to other SMR designs.
By leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification, utilizing the licensed and proven GNF2 fuel design, and incorporating proven components and supply chain expertise, GEH said it believes the BWRX-300 can become a low risk, cost-competitive offering to the market for SMR for Poland.
The BWRX-300 is in pre-licensing discussions with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (NRC). A series of topical reports, typical for this stage, have been submitted, but there is no timeline for submission of a license application posted on the agency’s website.
About the BWRX-300 MOU
This past week, Cameco (TSX: CCO; NYSE: CCJ), GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), GEH SMR Technologies Canada, Ltd. (GEH SMR Canada) and Synthos Green Energy (SGE), a member of the Synthos Group S.A., have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to evaluate the potential establishment of a uranium fuel supply chain in Canada capable of servicing a potential fleet of BWRX-300 small modular reactors (SMRs) in Poland.
Synthos, a manufacturer of synthetic rubber and one of the biggest producers of chemical raw materials in Poland, is interested in obtaining affordable, on-demand, carbon-free electricity from a dependable, dedicated source. In 2019 SGE and GEH agreed to collaborate on potential deployment applications for the BWRX-300 in Poland. SGE and GEH signed a strategic agreement in 2020 that further advanced the cooperation.
Cameco supplies uranium, uranium refining and conversion services to the nuclear industry worldwide. In July 2021, Cameco, GEH and Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A) agreed to explore several areas of cooperation to advance the commercialization and deployment of BWRX-300 SMRs in Canada and around the world.
“We believe nuclear energy will play a major role in helping countries and companies around the world achieve their net-zero emission targets,” said Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel. “This MOU is a great example of the kind of innovative solutions businesses like Synthos Green Energy are exploring and how SMRs could contribute to industry-driven efforts to decarbonize.”
“We look forward to working with Cameco and GEH in understanding the uranium requirements for a fleet of BWRX-300s in Poland and the support that Canada has to offer,” said Rafal Kasprów, President of the Board of SGE. “In addition to this MOU, SGE is working closely with GEH to identify supply chain opportunities in Poland that complement the export capabilities being developed in Canada for the BWRX-300, which could enable us to successfully deliver carbon-free electricity to the grid.”
“GEH is honored to be working with Cameco and Synthos Green Energy to deploy the BWRX-300,” said Jay Wileman, President & CEO, GEH. “Through our collaboration we look forward to the opportunity to bring carbon-free energy generation to Poland and support the creation of valuable uranium supply jobs in Canada.”
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Post Script: Is the “Opportunity” Real for Nuclear Energy in Poland?
The Oklahoma Land Rush vibes I get from news about nuclear energy “opportunities” in Poland reminds me of a TV commercial from the early 1960s. Hundreds of people are seen running across a landscape towards a floating image of a giant bottle of chocolate syrup.
The TV commercial was aired for a chocolate flavored syrup called “Coco Marsh.” One of the spots that aired on prime time had the theme of “everyone is running to get Coco Marsh.”
It showed an old time movie clip of crowds running across a field towards a giant replica of a bottle of the stuff. The product was promoted as having marshmallow cream in it to make the drink smoother.
For a while the commercial became a “thing,” kind of like the famous Wendy’s commercial of “where’s the beef?” The product went off the market due to competition from powdered chocolate flavoring products.
Time will tell whether prospects for a nuclear energy in Poland will turn out to be the real deal or just a transitory sugar high lasting as long as it takes to chug 8oz of chocolate flavored beverage.
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