Nuclear accounts for 10,5% (2017) of global power generation and is growing in many countries as demand for electricity increases. From 2012-2017, installed capacity rose to 392GW (an increase of 18GW). According to GlobalData, nuclear will continue to grow steadily over the next decade, reaching an estimated 536GW by 2030. Self-proclaimed “time traveller from the age of steam” Dan Yurman’s NeutronBytes blog keeps tabs on all the latest developments. Here’s his December round-up…
CHINA: EDF’s flagship EPR enters revenue service in Taishan
- The first Areva/EDF European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), a 1650MW commercial plant, is now in revenue service in Taishan, China, located about 136Km west of Hong Kong.
- Power was sent to the grid this week following extensive testing. World Nuclear News (WNN) reported that Taishan 1 completed a full-power continuous demonstration test run of 168 hours.
The Taishan project was launched on November 26, 2007, and was initially expected to generate power by 2013. The cost of the project was not announced via reports published in English language Chinese news media.
Given the five years added to the original schedule, the cost per kilowatt probably came in significantly higher for the more complicated GEN III design than for older Chinese plants such as the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Shenzhen which was a legacy Framatome design.
A second EPR reactor is expected to come online at the plant next year. Work began on Unit 2 in 2010. The Taishan power station is a joint venture between China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) and Electricité de France (EDF).
Guo Limin, general manager of the joint venture, told the South China Morning Post that the company had learned from the delays and would apply that knowledge to the construction of the second reactor.
“The EPR has increased its safety standards with equipment grades,” Guo said. “Actually, some of the equipment we have used, although it is from the same factory, are not typical parts. The development process for new equipment takes some time, and it takes repeated processes.”
He said delays had also been caused by changes in design of key components and systems.
WNN notes that Taishan 1 and 2 are the first two reactors based on the EPR design to be built in China. They are part of an EUR8 billion (USD9 billion) contract signed by Areva and CGN in November 2007. The Taishan project is owned by the Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Limited, a joint venture between EDF (30%) and CGN.
These two units are the third and fourth EPR units under construction globally, after the Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland and the Flamanville 3 project in France. The EPR design adopted in Taishan was developed by Framatome.
CGN began loading fuel assemblies into Unit 1’s core last April. The reactor achieved first criticality in June and was connected to the grid by the end of that month. Taishan 2, which is in the equipment installation phase, is scheduled to begin operating next year.
Big picture: 392GW and rising
UK: plans for EPRs for UK are underway
EDF is also building two EPRs in the UK. Under a strategic investment agreement signed in October 2016, CGN agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C project in Somerset.
A tie-in to that contract is a plan to jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.
The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France’s EPR reactor technology. The new plant at Bradwell in Essex will feature China’s Hualong One design. That reactor is part way through the UK Generic Design Review which assesses the safety of the design and its environmental risks.
Status of other EPRs
Olkiluoto 3, the first-of-a-kind EPR, has completed hot functional tests and is preparing to load fuel, while fuel loading at the Flamanville EPR is scheduled to begin by the end of this year. Delays have plagued both projects and the plant in Finland recently pushed back its start up date due to issues with its operational readiness review.
At one time Areva, before it was reorganized and had its reactor division merged into EDF, had plans to build four EPRs in the US. All of those plans fell by the wayside due to changes in energy markets primarily driven by the low cost of natural gas. Areva withdrew the EPR design from the safety evaluation process at the NRC.
The collapse of the V C Summer project in South Carolina, which was to be composed of two Westinghouse 1150 MW AP1000s GEn III+ design units, has probably put off new starts of large nuclear reactors in the U.S for a long time.
Other nuclear news
JAPAN: Japanese Government to aid nuclear energy start-ups
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) plans to support start-ups in the field of nuclear power by providing funds and technical expertise to firms who are developing promising technologies with the objective of helping them commercialize those technologies.
The ministry will consider subsidizing 50% to 90% of their development costs, with the amounts varying depending on which of four stages they are in, from basic research to putting the technologies into commercial production.
Additionally, METI is reported by the Japan Times to have plans to provide start-ups with access to high temperature gas reactor designs and to test them at facilities owned by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. Agency personnel will be provided free of charge in some cases.
The initiative is aimed at boosting the number of technicians engaged in developing next-generation nuclear reactors such as small module reactors (SMRs).
The ministry will support the commercialization of new technologies by introducing investors and management consultants to students and young researchers engaged in nuclear energy technology development. Those students and researchers will be selected through competitions.
METI officials told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper the country is seeing competition for development of SMRs and advanced reactors in the U.S. They mentioned NuScale’s work on as 50 MW SMR using LWR technology and work by TerraPower on an advanced fast reactor in partnership with Chinese nuclear firms.
Toshiba out – and Hitachi too?
Another reason that Japan is now investing in SMRs is that its export business for large scale reactors has dried up. Toshiba has withdrawn from the nuclear industry and Mitsubishi just withdrew from a four reactor project in Turkey. Hitachi’s plans to build four proven 1350 MW ABWRs in the UK are uncertain given the seeming inability of the UK government to come up with a viable funding plan for them.
Given this global situation, the Japanese Cabinet is “pursuing reactors with excellent safety, economic efficiency and mobility” by 2050. This policy includes promoting the development of new types of reactors such as HTGRs. Japan does not have a domestic program for HTGRs though it does have several international joint R&D projects with other countries.
As nuclear power plants have a lifespan of up to 60 years, existing nuclear power plants need to be rebuilt and new reactors have to be put to practical use around 2040. METI officials are thinking long term. They said that by 2050 the practical use of fast reactors such as sodium-cooled fast reactors may be a reality.
In the meantime, METI is betting on SMRs with power in the range of 200-to-300 MW. Follow global development trends, the plan is for the main parts are mostly pre-constructed and assembled at the plant itself to reduce on-site construction, a method that is expected to cut construction costs. At customer sites safety will be enhanced by burying reactors underground.
While METI is focused on export opportunities, it has not as yet addressed the issue of whether or how Japan will replace its fleet of nuclear reactors as they approach the 40-year mark.
The Japanese government is deeply conflicted over this issue and faces strong opposition in some areas to restart of reactors closed following the Fukushima crisis in 2011.
RUSSIA: Russian Federation produces first MOX fuel for Beloyarsk-4 fast neutron reactor
(NucNet): The first production batch of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies for the Beloyarsk-4 BN-800 fast neutron reactor has been produced at the Mining and Chemical Combine at Zheleznogorsk in central Siberia, state nuclear corporation Rosatom said.
Rosatom said the fuel pellets in the assemblies were made of a mixture of depleted uranium oxides accumulated from enterprises connected to state nuclear fuel company TVEL and plutonium oxides separated during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
The basic technology for manufacturing the MOX fuel pellets was developed by TVEL subsidiary AA Bochvar Research Institute of Inorganic Materials. The fuel pellets are manufactured from a mixture of oxides of depleted uranium accumulated at TVEL facilities and oxides of plutonium extracted during the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.
The first batch of MOX fuel assemblies were shipped to the first-of-a-kind BN-800 fast reactor in March 2014. A total of 106 assemblies were produced by Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad.
The BN-800 reactor, constructed as unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Sverdlovsk district, was brought to minimum controlled power for the first time in June 2014, at which time commercial operation was planned for the end of that year.
However, in December 2014 operator Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear fuel for the unit would first be developed further. It was brought again to the minimum controlled power level in August 2015, and again in November 2015, eventually being connected to the grid in December 2015. The 789 MWe reactor entered commercial operation in October 2016.
Russia’s MOX fuel programme
The industrial production of MOX fuel in Russia is part of a federal program to develop a new generation of nuclear technologies. The MOX fuel project was led by TVEL.
“The beginning of serial production of MOX fuel for the BN-800 is an important step for solving the strategic task of creating a closed nuclear fuel cycle and a two-component nuclear power industry with thermal and fast neutron reactors,” said Konstantin Vergazov, senior vice-president of TVEL.
Vergazov added that using Russia’s significant reserves of depleted uranium and plutonium will help to increase the fuel options for nuclear energy and reduce the consumption of natural uranium, the main ingredient for nuclear fuel.
Beloyarsk-4, at Zarechny near Yekaterinburg in central Russia, is the country’s first reactor of the BN-800 design. Commercial operation started in 2016 with a capacity of 820 MW.
There is another commercially operational reactor at the Beloyarsk station, the Beloyarsk-3 BN-600 fast neutron unit which is a smaller version of the BN-800.
Russia is considering further expansion of the Beloyarsk station with the construction of Unit 5, an even larger 1,200-MW fast neutron reactor, but according to recent reports a decision to proceed with that design depends on the operational results of Beloyarsk-4.
US: should ‘reset’ its nuclear waste programme, says Stanford study
NucNet – The US should “reset” its nuclear waste program by moving responsibility for commercially generated, used nuclear fuel away from the federal government and into the hands of an independent, non-profit, utility owned and -funded nuclear waste management organisation, a Stanford University-led study has concluded. (executive summary) (Full text; PDF file)
The study said the new, independent, utility-owned organization would control spent fuel from the time it is removed from reactors until its final disposal in a deep geologic repository.
“This is not a new idea. Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Canada all have adopted a similar approach, and their nuclear waste management programs are moving forward.”
Ideas for an independent nuclear waste corporation have floated around US think tanks and national labs for decades, but Congress has never moved forward with legislation to create one.
Essential to the success of a new organisation would be access to the Nuclear Waste Fund. Reassigning responsibility to a new organization, whether controlled by the federal government or nuclear utilities, would require new legislation.
The federal Nuclear Waste Fund, which contains more than $40bn, is made up of charges against electric utilities to pay for the costs of constructing and operating a permanent repository.
The Stanford study says the US government has worked for decades and spent tens of billions of dollars in search of a permanent disposal site for the nation’s nuclear waste. Some 80,000 tonnes of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste from defense programs are stored in pools, dry casks and large tanks at more than 75 sites throughout the country.
Since 1987, the Department of Energy focused on developing a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, spending approximately $10bn on the project and submitting a license application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008. In 2010, the DOE declared Yucca Mountain “unworkable” and unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw its application.
The courts have held the government liable for the DOE’s inaction, awarding reactor owners damages for the department’s failure to meet a January 1998 deadline to begin removing used fuel from reactor sites.
The problem continues to be one not of technical feasibility but of political will.
Thanks to Dan Yurman for permission to publish his December 2018 monthly round-up. Visit his blog: NeutronBytes
Read Dan’s next article Will France spoil its nuclear future for short-term political gain?