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Is Saudi Arabia Closer to Releasing a Tender for New Nuclear?

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman 83066
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jan 21, 2022
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  • Is Saudi Arabia Ready to Release a Tender for New Nuclear
  • Rosatom to Complete MBIR Research Reactor by 2027
  • Russia to Build BN1200 by 2035
  • UAE Focusing on Nuclear Power-based Hydrogen Production
  • Oklo Says the ‘Door Is Open’ to Resubmit its License Application to the NRC

Is Saudi Arabia Ready to Release a Tender for New Nuclear

saudi_arabia_pol_2003Something is cooking in Saudi Arabia with its nuclear tender. On 01/19/22 there are three press statements by potential vendors aimed at positioning themselves to win the very substantial business of building new nuclear reactors for Saudi Arabia.

All three vendors noted there has been no progress with the tender for some time, but that they stand ready to bid if and when one comes.

These kinds of press statements don’t hit the wires unless, to use a metaphor, the fish look like they are biting. In other words, you don’t get these kinds of positioning statements from interested vendors unless the tender is close to being ready to drop. That doesn’t mean one will, only that these three vendors think one is coming.

saudi-table-3So what’s driving the public relations fishing exercise? Well for one, the ambitions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, aka KSA, for nuclear energy have always ridden on the horse call the price of oil.

Because a pay as you go approach has always been more attractive than borrowing from the sovereign wealth fund, a higher price of oil puts the nuclear program closer to the launch pad.

The price of oil is rising and may hit $100/bbl at the current rate which could provide the revenue needed to pay for the  22 GWe $100 billion plan (16 1400 MWe Units).  The first item out of the chute is expected to be a tender for two 1400-1600 MWe PWRs each unit being costing $5-7 billlion. KSA will have higher than average costs due to the need to import just about everything, including the workforce, to complete them.

Who are the the Press Release Kings?

The three bidders issuing breathless press releases touting their value to the customer include Rolls-Royce, a consortium from South Korea, and Rosatom, the export focused state owned enterprise from Russia.

Briefly, Rolls-Royce in the UK is a long shot pitching a 470 MWe mid-range PWR which is still in the design and regulatory approval stage. The breathless media pitch to read is “Rolls-Royce heads to Middle East as Saudi Arabia plots £74bn nuclear investment.”

South Korea has a strong position having successfully built four 1400 MWe PWRs for the UAE, a key KSA ally. In this case the English language wire service item, which is a more sober announcement, readily notes that communication about the tender from KSA has amounted to crickets over the past year. The news item to read it, “S. Korea gets ready for Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power project.”

The third news item isn’t from a vendor, but it is from a highly credible source namely S&P Global/Platts. It starts its report by noting that Roastom already has a strong track record in the Middle East with four 1200 MWe PWRs under construction in Turkey and plans to break ground for four similar units in Egypt later this year.

Also, Roastom has built two 1000 MWe units for India, has two more under construction, and will ink a deal for yet two more at the same site (Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu) later this year. Rosatom also broke ground in China last year for two new 1,000 MWe units adding to a site where they have previously built two similar units. The report to read is “Rosatom in talks with several Middle East countries about starting nuclear power plants.”

A good song to listen to while mulling all this over is Carole King’s hit from her famous Tapestry album, “I hear the earth move.”

& & &

Rosatom to Complete MBIR Research Reactor by 2027

(S&P Global/Platts) Russian State Atomic Energy Corp. (Rosatom) told S&P Global/Platts 01/18/22 its fast neutron MBIR nuclear research reactor will complete construction one year early in 2027 and be available for research programs in 2028 following cooperation by construction partners.

“The research program at MBIR reactor aims to speed up development of new materials and fuels from 10 years to five years, supporting development of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels,” Alexander Zagornov, project director, international projects division told S&P Global Platts.

S&P Global/Platts added that the MBIR, which will be the world’s largest fast neutron research reactor, is being constructed by Rosatom in Dimitrovgrad as part of a program to develop infrastructure for new technologies for nuclear energy. The multipurpose research reactor will have 150 MWt of thermal capacity and produce 50 MWe of power for use in the Ulyanovsk region.

Rosatom released this briefing on the BN-1200 at an IAEA meeting in 2016. According to this briefing the MBIR was supposed to be operational by the end of that decade so the plant is actually now coming in a decade late.

mbir IAEA briefing slide

Rosatom has developed a consortium known as the International Research Center based on the MBIR reactor. It will be a test center for materials and fuels for advanced reactors. Discussions are underway with other countries to join including the Czech Republic, India, Kazakhstan and the UAE, according to the company.

In the U.S. plans to build the Versatile Test Reactor, a competitor to the MBIR, remains stalled due to a lack of enthusiasm in Congress about its worth. It set zero funding for the project for 2022. Advocates for the project are steadfastly committed to getting the effort moving again despite a lack of progress. According to unofficial sources, a briefing on the Senate side in December by DOE to restart consideration for funding apparently did not light a fire under congressional decision makers. Details are sparse about what’s coming next, but one source told this blog, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

It seems that neither DOE nor Congress has yet figured out that with the MBIR the Russians are coming to lunch, ours.

Prior coverage on this blog –

& & &

Russia to Build BN1200 by 2035

Russia has set a planned milestone to complete work on the BN-1200, its most advanced nuclear reactor design, by the mid-2030s. The start of work on the project has previously been postponed due to uncertainties related to the overall design and the costs of building a first of a kind unit (FOAK). According to a 01/14/22 press statement from the Beloyarsk NPP monitored in London, the procurement of an EPC for the plant is expected to take place within the next few months.

The press statement also said uncertainties remain about procurement of long lead time components from Russian industrial suppliers to the nuclear industry. In other words scaling up the BN-800 to a 1200 MW power rating requires suppliers to rethink their capabilities to get the job done.

bn-1200 conceptual image

BN-1200 Conceptual Perspective. Image: Rosatom

With wink and a nod Rosatom nevertheless said in its press statement that, “Technologically, the industry is ready for the construction of the unit. In September 2021, the scientific and technical councils of Rosatom recommended it for construction. Now it remains to be seen whether machine-building plants will be able to integrate the production of equipment for the BN-1200 into the flow of existing orders, develop a roadmap for the construction of the unit and determine the scheme for managing the construction project.”

Two types of fuel are being considered for the sodium cooled BN-1200. The first is MOX fuel and the second is a nitride fuel.

Two fast neutron power units are already in operation at the Beloyarsk NPP. The BN-600 reactor, which began operation in 1980, and the BN-800 reactor, which began operation in 2015.  See WNA’s profile for a complete review of Russia’s extensive fast reactor program and technical details of each fast reactor.

Prior Coverage on this Blog

UAE Focusing on Nuclear Power-based Hydrogen

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is accelerating its hydrogen economy development by utilizing the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, which was built by South Korean companies.

“We are considering utilizing nuclear power for the purpose of hydrogen production,” the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. recently said in a recent press statement. It claims that “One million tons of hydrogen a year can be produced from the four Barakah Nuclear Power Plant units with a combined capacity of 5.6 GW.”

The Barakah Nuclear Power Plant was built by South Korean companies, including Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power. The first and second units are already in operation and the rest will be put into operation in the near future.

Despite the use of South Korean expertise to build the UAE reactors, the South Korean government is still objecting to nuclear power-based hydrogen production in South Korea.

This may change after the upcoming presidential election in March. Several of the candidates for the office have said they favor using nuclear power which would be a reversal of the current administration’s anti-nuclear policies.

Unit 2 of UAE’s Nuclear Plant to Start Operations in 2022

(Reuters) The second unit of the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant is set to begin commercial operations in coming months, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation’s (ENEC) CEO said last week.

The third unit of the plant’s planned four reactors will start operations in late 2022, Mohammed al-Hammadi told a sustainable finance conference in Abu Dhabi.

Barakah’s Unit 1 was connected to the national power grid in August 2020, and Unit 2 in September 2021. When completed Barakah, which is being built by Korea Electric Power Corp will have four reactors with 5,600 megawatts (MW) of total capacity equivalent to around 25% of the UAE’s peak demand.

& & &

Oklo Says the ‘Door Is Open’ to Resubmit License Application to the NRC

(NucNet) Oklo, which admits to being shocked down to its socks when the NRC kicked back its license application, says it will try again. Oklo told the Morning Consult wire service, the agency’s decision came as a surprise.  That said the California based company also said it is “ready to keep moving forward” with its advanced nuclear project.

The NRC announced earlier this month that it had turned down Oklo’s application. It said the denial was based on Oklo’s failure to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora reactor design. The firm defended its efforts saying, “We submitted an application that addressed existing regulations, was complete and accepted for review, and we responded to all requests for information in a timely manner.”

Oklo added, “And now, we are ready to keep moving forward by supplementing the application and resubmitting.”

The firm also said that that support for the project from stakeholders remains undiminished by the setback on its license application.

“Oklo has multiple projects under way with the NRC, the Aurora was just the first. Simultaneously, our partners at the [Idaho] lab remain dedicated, as they have been, related to fuel and site.”

It’s not that the NRC slammed the door shut on Oklo’s ambitions. The agency said it has made its decision “without prejudice.”

“We are already discussing next steps with them and new ways to communicate,” Oklo said in a press statement. However, the experience may have left Oklo with a few bruises. One of its topical reports went through three rounds of requests for additional information (RAIs) from the NRC.

In its rejection of the license application the NRC stated in its 01/11/22 Federal register notice, its reasons for the decision.

“A custom combined license application submitted under 10 CFR part 52, subpart C, “Combined Licenses,” must contain site-specific information needed for licensing as well as the same level of design detail that would be required for a design certification application so that the NRC can make final safety findings on the design.”

“Since March 2020, when Oklo submitted its custom combined license application, Oklo has repeatedly failed to provide substantive information in response to NRC staff RAIs on the maximum credible accident (MCA) analysis for the Aurora; the safety classification of structures, systems, and components (SSCs); and other issues needed for the NRC staff to establish a schedule for its technical review and to complete that review.”

The NRC is in the process of developing a new set of regulations for licensing advanced reactors, but the proposed rule package isn’t due until February 2023. By that time Oklo may have made significant progress toward convincing the NRC to issue a license under 10 CFR Part 52.

10cfr-part53-roadmap

Image: U.S. NRC

What’s in the Oklo Reactor Design

The proposed Oklo reactor design consists of a small reactor with integrated solar panels. The reactor uses sodium filled heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system. It will generate approximately 1.5 MWe of power. According to Oklo, the reactor will run for at least 20 years on one load of fuel.

Oklo has said it budgeted “in the order of” $10M for construction and $3M a year for operations. The company said the construction cost includes the small building required, including the power conversion system.

Oklo, which is solely venture-funded and backed primarily by US-based investors, announced in 2019 that it had successfully demonstrated prototypes of a metallic fuel at INL for the Aurora reactor. It said it had fabricated prototypes with multiple fuel elements reaching production specification.

Prior coverage on this blog

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