Category Archives: Power Generating Technology – Nuclear

Energy Literacy

I was impressed in 2007 by the following chart in Scientific American, which shows where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how the energy is used in electricity generation and in four consumer sectors. One conclusion is that more than half of our energy is wasted, which is clearly shown in the bottom right corner of the chart. However, this result shouldn’t be surprising.

2007 USA energy utilizationSource: Scientific American / Jen Christiansen, using LLNL & DOE 2007 data

The waste energy primarily arises from the efficiencies of the various energy conversion cycles being used. For example, the following 2003 chart shows the relative generating efficiencies of a wide range of electric power sources. You can see in the chart that there is a big plateau at 40% efficiency for many types of thermal cycle power plants. That means that 60% of the energy they used is lost as waste heat. The latest combined cycle plants have demonstrated net efficiencies as high as 62.22% (Bouchain, France, 2016, see details in my updated 17 March 2015 post, “Efficiency in Electricity Generation”).

Comparative generation  efficiencies-Eurelectric 2003Source: Eurelectric and VGB PowerTech, July 2003

Another source of waste is line loss in electricity transmission and distribution from generators to the end-users. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed.

There is an expanded, interactive, zoomable map of U.S. energy data that goes far beyond the 2007 Scientific American chart shown above. You can access this interactive map at the following link:

http://energyliteracy.com

The interactivity in the map is impressive, and the way it’s implemented encourages exploration of the data in the map. You can drill down on individual features and you can explore particular paths in much greater detail than you could in a physical chart containing the same information. Below are two example screenshots. The first screenshot is a top-level view. As in the Scientific American chart, energy sources are on the left and final disposition as energy services or waste energy is on the right. Note that waste energy is on the top right of the interactive map.

Energy literacy map 1

The second screenshot is a more detailed view of natural gas production and utilization.

Energy literacy map 2

As reported by Lulu Chang on the digitaltrends.com website, this interactive map was created by Saul Griffith at the firm Otherlab (https://otherlab.com). You can read her post at the following link:

http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/otherlab-energy-chart/

I hope you enjoy exploring the interactive energy literacy map.

Quadrennial Energy Review

On 9 January 2014 the Administration launched a “Quadrennial Energy Review” (QER) to examine “how to modernize the Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility…” You can read the Presidential Memorandum establishing the QER at the following link:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/09/presidential-memorandum-establishing-quadrennial-energy-review

You can get a good overview of the goals of the QER in a brief factsheet at the following link:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/21/fact-sheet-administration-announces-new-agenda-modernize-energy-infrastr

On April 21, 2015, the QER Task Force released the “first installment” of the QER report entitled “Energy Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Infrastructure.” The Task Force announcement stated:

“The first installment (QER 1.1) examines how to modernize our Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility, and is focused on energy transmission, storage, and distribution (TS&D), the networks of pipelines, wires, storage, waterways, railroads, and other facilities that form the backbone of our energy system.”

The complete QER 1.1 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:

https://energy.gov/epsa/quadrennial-energy-review-first-installment

QER 1.1 contents are listed below:

QER 1.1 contentOn January 6, 2017, the QER Task Force released the “second installment” of the QER report entitled “Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System.” The Task Force announcement stated:

“The second installment (QER 1.2) finds the electricity system is a critical and essential national asset, and it is a strategic imperative to protect and enhance the value of the electricity system through modernization and transformation. QER 1.2 analyzes trends and issues confronting the Nation’s electricity sector out to 2040, examining the entire electricity system from generation to end use, and within the context of three overarching national goals: (1) enhance economic competitiveness; (2) promote environmental responsibility; and (3) provide for the Nation’s security.

The report provides 76 recommendations that seek to enable the modernization and transformation of the electricity system. Undertaken in conjunction with state and local governments, policymakers, industry, and other stakeholders, the recommendations provide the building blocks for longer-term, planned changes and activities.”

The complete QER 1.2 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:

https://energy.gov/epsa/quadrennial-energy-review-second-installment

QER 1.2 contents are listed below:

QER 1.2 contentI hope you take time to explore the QERs. I think the Task Force has collected a great deal of actionable information in the two reports. Converting this information into concrete actions will be a matter for the next Administration.

NuScale Submits First Ever Design Certification Application (DCA) for a Small Modular Reactor (SMR)

For all the talk about SMRs over the past two decades or more, there have been no SMR license applications submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) until now. On 31 December 2016, NuScale Power, Portland, OR made the first ever request to the NRC to initiate a licensing review of an SMR. On 12 January 2017, NuScale made the formal submittal to NRC of all the required DCA documents for an SMR power plant comprised of 12 individual NuScale Power ModulesTM.

An NPM is a small pressurized water reactor (PWR) with an integrated primary system and many passive features for normal modes of operation and for safe shutdown in response to abnormal or accident conditions. NuScale claims that the passive safety features enable shutdown and self-cooling with no operator action, no AC or DC power, and no external water.

You’ll find a good 2013 overview of the NuScale Power ModuleTM on the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency’s) ARIS (Advanced Reactor Information System) website at the following link:

https://aris.iaea.org/sites/..%5CPDF%5CNuScale.pdf

More information is available on the NuScale Power website at the following link:

http://www.nuscalepower.com

The basic, factory-manufactured NPM is rated at 160 MWt, which could deliver about 45 MWe. A power plant with 12 NPMs would have a combined output of 1,920 MWt and about 540 MWe. A single NPM is shown below.

NuScale moduleSource: NuScale Power

NuScale Power anticipates a 42-month licensing process as outlined in the following chart. If this schedule can be achieved, then the NRC could issue a Design Certification (DC) as soon as July 2020. At that time, the standard design of a modular NuScale power plant with up to 12 NPMs will have NRC approval independent of an application to construct or operate a specific plant. A design certification is valid for 15 years from the date of issuance and can be renewed.

NuScale licensing scheduleSource: NuScale Power

A license application for an actual plant will focus on site-specific issues and should not need to re-open issues already covered in the NRC’s DC review. This greatly de-risks construction of a new nuclear power plant based on the NPM standard design approved in the DC. NuScale forecasts that the first NPM could go into operation as soon as 2024.

 

 

New Safe Confinement Structure Moved into Place at Chernobyl Unit 4

Following the Chernobyl accident on 26 April 1986, a concrete and steel “sarcophagus” was built around the severely damaged Unit 4 as an emergency measure to halt the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere from that unit. For details on the design and construction of the sarcophagus, including many photos of the damage at Unit 4, visit the chernobylgallery.com website at the following link:

http://chernobylgallery.com/chernobyl-disaster/sarcophagus/

The completed sarcophagus is shown below, at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1988, Soviet scientists announced that the sarcophagus would only last 20–30 years before requiring restorative maintenance work. They were a bit optimistic.

Sarcophagus overview photoThe completed sarcophagus at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Sarcophagus closeup photoClose-up of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Inside-sarcophagusCross-section of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

The sarcophagus rapidly deteriorated. In 2006, the “Designed Stabilization Steel Structure” was extended to better support a damaged roof that posed a significant risk if it collapsed. In 2010, it was found that water leaking through the sarcophagus roof was becoming radioactively contaminated as it seeped through the rubble of the damaged reactor plant and into the soil.

To provide a longer-term remedy for Chernobyl Unit 4, the  European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) funded the design and construction of the New Safe Confinement (NSC, or New Shelter) at a cost of about €1.5 billion ($1.61 billion) for the shelter itself. Total project cost is expected to be about €2.1 billion ($2.25 billion).

Construction by Novarka (a French construction consortium of VINCI Construction and Bouygues Construction) started in 2012. The arched NSC structure was built in two halves and joined together in 2015. The completed NSC is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built, with a span of 257 m (843 feet), a length of 162 m (531 feet), a height of 108 m (354 feet), and a total weight of 36,000 tonnes.

NSC exterior viewNSC exterior view. Source: EBRD

NSC cross section

NSC cross-section. Adapted from phys.org/news

Novarka started moving the NSC arch structure into place on 14 November 2016 and completed the task more than a week later. The arched structure was moved into place using a system of 224 hydraulic jacks that pushed the arch 60 centimeters (2 feet) each stroke. On 29 November 2016, a ceremony at the site was attended by Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, diplomats and site workers, to celebrate the successful final positioning of the NSC over Chernobyl Unit 4.

EBRD reported on this milestone:

“Thirty years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the radioactive remains of the power plant’s destroyed reactor 4 have been safely enclosed following one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects.

Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) was moved over a distance of 327 meters (1,072 feet) from its assembly point to its final resting place, completely enclosing a previous makeshift shelter that was hastily assembled immediately after the 1986 accident.

The equipment in the New Safe Confinement will now be connected to the new technological building, which will serve as a control room for future operations inside the arch. The New Safe Confinement will be sealed off from the environment hermetically. Finally, after intensive testing of all equipment and commissioning, handover of the New Safe Confinement to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant administration is expected in November 2017.”

You can see EBRD’s short video of this milestone, “Unique engineering feat concluded as Chernobyl arch reaches resting place,” at the following link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH1bv9fAxiY

The NSC has an expected lifespan of at least 100 years.

The NSC is fitted with an overhead crane to allow for the future dismantling of the existing sarcophagus and the remains of Chernobyl Unit 4.

International Energy Agency (IEA) Assesses World Energy Trends

The IEA issued two important reports in late 2016, brief overviews of which are provided below.

World Energy Investment 2016 (WEI-2016)

In September 2016, the IEA issued their report, “World Energy Investment 2016,” which, they state, is intended to addresses the following key questions:

  • What was the level of investment in the global energy system in 2015? Which countries attracted the most capital?
  • What fuels and technologies received the most investment and which saw the biggest changes?
  • How is the low fuel price environment affecting spending in upstream oil and gas, renewables and energy efficiency? What does this mean for energy security?
  • Are current investment trends consistent with the transition to a low-carbon energy system?
  • How are technological progress, new business models and key policy drivers such as the Paris Climate Agreement reshaping investment?

The following IEA graphic summarizes key findings in WEI-2016 (click on the graphic to enlarge):

WEI-2016

You can download the Executive Summary of WEI-2016 at the following link:

https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/september/world-energy-investment-2016.html

At this link, you also can order an individual copy of the complete report for a price (between €80 – €120).

You also can download a slide presentation on WEI 2016 at the following link:

https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/event/161025_Laszlo_Varro_Investment_Slides_0.pdf

World Energy Outlook 2016 (WEO-2016)

The IEA issued their report, “World Energy Outlook 2016,” in November 2016. The report addresses the expected transformation of the global energy mix through 2040 as nations attempt to meet national commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which entered into force on 4 November 2016.

You can download the Executive Summary of WEO-2016 at the following link:

https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/november/world-energy-outlook-2016.html

At this link, you also can order an individual copy of the complete report for a price (between €120 – €180).

The following IEA graphic summarizes key findings in WEO-2016 (click on the graphic to enlarge):

WEO-2016

Climate Change and Nuclear Power

In September 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a report entitled, “Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2016.” As described by the IAEA:

“This publication provides a comprehensive review of the potential role of nuclear power in mitigating global climate change and its contribution to other economic, environmental and social sustainability challenges.”

An important result documented in this report is a comparative analysis of the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for 10 electric power generating technologies. The IAEA authors note that:

“By comparing the GHG emissions of all existing and future energy technologies, this section (of the report) demonstrates that nuclear power provides energy services with very few GHG emissions and is justifiably considered a low carbon technology.

In order to make an adequate comparison, it is crucial to estimate and aggregate GHG emissions from all phases of the life cycle of each energy technology. Properly implemented life cycle assessments include upstream processes (extraction of construction materials, processing, manufacturing and power plant construction), operational processes (power plant operation and maintenance, fuel extraction, processing and transportation, and waste management), and downstream processes (dismantling structures, recycling reusable materials and waste disposal).”

The results of this comparative life cycle GHG analysis appear in Figure 5 of this report, which is reproduced below (click on the graphic to enlarge):

IAEA Climate Change & Nuclear Power

You can see that nuclear power has lower life cycle GHG emissions that all other generating technologies except hydro. It also is interesting to note how effective carbon dioxide capture and storage could be in reducing GHG emissions from fossil power plants.

You can download a pdf copy of this report for free on the IAEA website at the following link:

http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/iaeabooks/11090/Climate-Change-and-Nuclear-Power-2016

For a link to a similar 2015 report by The Brattle Group, see my post dated 8 July 2015, “New Report Quantifies the Value of Nuclear Power Plants to the U.S. Economy and Their Contribution to Limiting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions.”

It is noteworthy that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was issued in 2015, fails to give appropriate credit to nuclear power as a clean power source. For more information on this matter see my post dated 2 July 2015,” EPA Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule Does Not Adequately Recognize the Role of Nuclear Power in Greenhouse Gas Reduction.”

In contrast to the EPA’s CPP, New York state has implemented a rational Clean Energy Standard (CES) that awards zero-emissions credits (ZEC) that favor all technologies that can meet specified emission standards. These credits are instrumental in restoring merchant nuclear power plants in New York to profitable operation and thereby minimizing the likelihood that the operating utilities will retire these nuclear plants early for financial reasons. For more on this subject, see my post dated 28 July 2016, “The Nuclear Renaissance is Over in the U.S.”  In that post, I noted that significant growth in the use of nuclear power will occur in Asia, with use in North America and Europe steady or declining as older nuclear power plants retire and fewer new nuclear plants are built to take their place.

An updated projection of worldwide use of nuclear power is available in the 2016 edition of the IAEA report, “Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050.” You can download a pdf copy of this report for free on the IAEA website at the following link:

http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/11120/Energy-Electricity-and-Nuclear-Power-Estimates-for-the-Period-up-to-2050

Combining the information in the two IAEA reports described above, you can get a sense for what parts of the world will be making greater use of nuclear power as part of their strategies for reducing GHG emissions. It won’t be North America or Europe.

Current Status of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS)

Following a severe offshore earthquake on 11 March 2011 and subsequent massive tidal waves, the Fukushima Daiichi NPS and surrounding towns were severely damaged by these natural events. The extent of damage to the NPS, primarily from the effects of flooding by the tidal waves, resulted in severe fuel damage in the operating Units 1, 2 and 3, and hydrogen explosions in Units 1, 3 and 4. In response to the release of radioactive material from the NPS, the Japanese government ordered the local population to evacuate. You’ll find more details on the Fukushima Daiichi reactor accidents in my 18 January 2012 Lyncean presentation (Talk #69), which you can access at the following link:

http://www.lynceans.org/talk-69-11812/

On 1 September 2016, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. (TEPCO) issued a video update describing the current status of recovery and decommissioning efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS, including several side-by-side views contrasting the immediate post-accident condition of a particular unit with its current condition. Following is one example showing Unit 3.

Fukushima Unit 3_TEPCO 1Sep16 video updateSource: TEPCO

You can watch this TEPCO video at the following link:

http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/news/library/archive-e.html?video_uuid=kc867112&catid=69631

This video is part of the TEPCO Photos and Videos Library, which includes several earlier videos on the Fukushima Daiichi NPS as well as videos on other nuclear plants owned and operated by TEPCO (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and Fukushima Daini) and other TEPCO activities. TEPCO estimates that recovery and decommissioning activities at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS will continue for 30 – 40 years.

An excellent summary article by Will Davis, entitled, “TEPCO Updates on Fukushima Daiichi Conditions (with video),” was posted on 30 September 2016 on the ANS Nuclear Café website at the following link:

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2016/09/30/tepco-updates-on-fukushima-daiichi-conditions-with-video/

For additional resources related to the Fukushima Daiichi accident, recovery efforts, and lessons learned, see my following posts on Pete’s Lynx:

  • 20 May 2016: Fukushima Daiichi Current Status and Lessons Learned
  • 22 May 2015: Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident
  • 8 March 2015: Scientists Will Soon Use Natural Cosmic Radiation to Peer Inside Fukushima’s Mangled Reactor

 

 

China is Developing Floating Nuclear Power Plants

Various reports in 2016 indicate that China has designed and is constructing its first indigenous floating nuclear power plant. This mobile power plant is intended for deployment to remote coastal locations and to islands being developed by China in the South China Sea. According to China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), this floating nuclear power plant is intended to operate as a combined energy supply platform that is capable of delivering electric power, low-temperature process heat, and fresh water as needed by the particular application. Construction of the first unit started in 2015 and is scheduled to be completed in 2018 and operational by 2020. It also has been reported that China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) is building the first floating nuclear power plant, with plans to build a total of 20 for deployment in the South China Sea.

The availability of ample supplies of electric power, low-temperature process heat, and fresh water will enable more rapid development in remote regions, including construction of new infrastructure for harbors, airports, defense and commercial activities such as oil exploration and oil field exploitation and other marine resource development.

CGN reports that the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) for the first floating nuclear power plant is a single “small modular offshore reactor” ACPR50S, which is a compact two-loop pressurized water reactor (PWR). China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently approved this reactor design as part of the 13th Five-Year Plan for innovative energy technologies. The ACPR50S is rated at 200 MWt, with an electrical output of 60 MWe.

In comparison, the first Russian floating nuclear power plant, Akademik Lomonosov, has 2 x KLT-40S modular PWRs that will provide 70 MWe net electrical output and low-temperature process heat for shore installations. Akademik Lomonosov is schedule for its initial core load at the Baltiisky Zavod shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia in late 2016. After completing reactor testing, it is expected that Akademik Lomonosov will depart St. Petersburg in October 2017 and be towed along the north coast of Siberia to the Arctic port of Pevek, where it will be moored and connected to the grid.

The physical layout if the ACPR50S is shown below. The major components of the NSSS are the reactor vessel, two steam generators and primary pumps, and one pressurizer.

ACPR50S NSSSACPR50S NSSS. Source: CGN

The primary system is housed within a containment structure that is protected against damage from a ship collision (similar to design features in NS Savannah and other early commercial nuclear powered vessels). Active and passive safety systems provide for core and containment cooling during an accident. Severe (beyond design basis) accident mitigation measures include opening safety plugs to submerge the NSSS in seawater to ensure continued core cooling. The physical arrangement of the NSSS within the vessel is shown below.

ACPR50S shipboard arrangementAPR50S physical arrangement in the vessel. Source: CGN

The floating nuclear power plant is designed for on-ship refueling and pre-treatment of radioactive waste. When the floating nuclear power plant is deployed in a remote location, a visiting offshore engineering services vessel will provide logistics and maintenance services as needed.

The following figure shows how a floating nuclear power plant might look moored to a pier and delivering electric power, process heat and fresh water to a shore installation.

China Floating NPP moored at shore installationSource: CGN

The floating nuclear power plant also could be deployed to support one or many oil drilling platforms as shown below.

China Floating NPP at oil platformSource: CGN

A important issue related to China’s deployment of floating nuclear power plants is that they may be deployed to support military development of islands in contested areas of the South China Sea. Time will tell how this scenario plays out.

 

 

 

IAEA’s Nuclear Technology Review 2016

In June 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a report by the Director General entitled, “Nuclear Technology Review 2016,” which highlights notable developments in 2015 in the following segments of the worldwide nuclear industry.

  • Power applications
    • Generation
    • Fuel cycle
    • Safety
  • Advanced fission
    • Gen III large water cooled reactors
    • Fast reactors
    • Gas-cooled reactors
    • Small & medium size reactors (SMRs)
    • Gen IV advanced reactors
  • Fusion
  • Accelerator and research reactor applications
  • Other applications
    • Emerging industrial applications of radiation technologies
    • Advances in medical imaging technology
    • Use of radiation in connection with managing mosquito disease vectors
    • Use of isotopic techniques for soil management

The following chart from the IAEA report shows the age distribution (years of operation) of the worldwide fleet of 441 operating power reactors. The median age of this fleet is about 26 years, and you can see a bow wave of aging nuclear power plants, followed by far fewer younger plants already in operation.

IAEA distribution of reactor age 2015

The following chart from the IAEA report shows the number of new plants under construction by region. As of the end of 2015, a total of 68 nuclear power plants were in various stages of their decade-long construction cycles. This chart clearly shows that Western Europe and the Americas are minor players in the construction of new reactors. Most of the new power reactor construction is occurring in Asia and Central / Eastern Europe.

IAEA reactors under construction 2015

IAEA reported that, in 2015, worldwide nuclear power generation reached 381.7 GWe. Projections for the future growth of nuclear power generation thru 2050 were given for two cases:

  • Low case: In this case, new plants just make up for the generating capacity lost from retiring plants. Projected 2050 worldwide generation: 371 GWe.
  • High case: This is a much more optimistic case, yielding about 964 GWe worldwide generation by 2050.

IAEA noted that, “The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) resulted in the Paris Agreement that neither identifies nor excludes any particular form of energy.” The Paris Agreement does not discriminate against nuclear power as a means for reaching lower carbon emission goals. In contrast, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) euphemistically named “Clean Power Plan” fails to give appropriate credit to nuclear power as a means for utilities and states to reduce the carbon emissions from their portfolio of power plants. (See my 3 July 2015 and 27 November 2015 posts for more on CPP).

IAEA further noted the contribution of nuclear power to meeting lower carbon emission goals:

“Nuclear power has significantly contributed to climate change mitigation by avoiding nearly 2 billion tonnes (metric tons) of carbon dioxide per year. For nuclear power to help limit global warming to 2o C by 2100, its capacity would need to match the high projection to avoid nearly 6.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Among the small and medium size reactors (SMRs), IAEA noted that the following three were under construction in 2015: Argentina’s CAREM-25, Russia’s KLT-40S, and China’s HTR-PM. Another dozen SMRs were considered to be in the advanced design stage and potentially deployable in the near-term.

IAEA maintains its Advanced Reactors Information System (ARIS), as I reported in my 13 February 2015 post. This is a very comprehensive source of information on all types of advanced reactors. You can directly access ARIS at the following link:

https://aris.iaea.org

The “Nuclear Technology Review 2016” provides a useful overview of worldwide nuclear fuel cycle activities:

  • Worldwide uranium mining in more than 15 countries produced about 57,000 tonnes of Uranium (U) in 2015. Kazakhstan is the leading producer, followed by Canada.
  • Worldwide annual capacity for conversion of U to UF6 was about 60,000 tonnes in 2015, approximately matching annual demand. Canada, China, France, Russia, UK and U.S. operate conversion facilities.
  • Worldwide annual enriched light water reactor (LWR) fuel fabrication capacity is about 13,500 tonnes vs. an annual demand of about 7,000 tonnes. In addition, the fuel fabrication capacity for natural uranium fuel for pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs) is about 4,000 tonnes vs. a demand of 3,000 tonnes. Thirteen nations produce LWR fuel, and five produce PHWR fuel.
  • Spent fuel reprocessing is being carried out in 5 nations: China, France, India, Russia and UK; with France and Russia offering reprocessing services to international customers. France and UK have the greatest capacity, reprocessing about 1,000 t HM/year.
  • IAEA reported that, “by the end of 2015, (worldwide) spent fuel in storage amounted to around 266,000 tonnes of heavy metal (t HM) and is accumulating at a rate of around 7,000 t HM/year.
  • Several nations are planning or developing their own geologic disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel

There’s a lot more information in the IAEA report, including information on fusion, accelerators, research reactors, and industrial and medical applications of nuclear technologies. You can download this IAEA report at the following link:

https://www.iaea.org/About/Policy/GC/GC60/GC60InfDocuments/English/gc60inf-2_en.pdf

 

 

The Nuclear Renaissance is Over in the U.S.

The nuclear renaissance seemed to offer a path forward to deploy new generations of safer, more efficient power reactors to replace existing fleets of large power reactors. In the U.S., that transition is captured in the following diagram.

Nuc renaissance roadmapSource: Department of Energy

The current issues plaguing the U.S. nuclear power industry are largely financial, driven primarily by the low price of natural gas and the correspondingly low price of electricity generated by fossil power plants fueled by natural gas.

The recently implemented EPA Clean Power Plan (CPP) also is having an impact by failing to give appropriate credit to nuclear power plants as a means for minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This leaves renewable power generators (primarily hydro, wind and solar) to meet GHG emission targets in state and utility electric power portfolios.  See my 27 November 2015, 8 July 2015 and 2 July 2015 posts for more information on the CPP.

Together, these issues have derailed the U.S. nuclear renaissance, which seemed to be gaining momentum more than a decade ago. Frankly, I think the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. is over because of the following factors:

  • Successfully operating nuclear power plants are being retired early for financial reasons.
  • Fewer large, new Generation III (Gen III) advanced light water reactor plants are being built than expected.
  • The prospects for small, modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced Generation IV (Gen IV) reactors will not be realized for a long time.
  • Important infrastructure facilities in the U.S. commercial reactor fuel cycle have been cancelled.

These issues are discussed in the following text.

1.  Early retirement of successfully operating nuclear power plants for financial reasons

In a merchant energy market, nuclear power plants, even those operating at very high capacity factors, are undercut by natural gas generators, which can deliver electricity to market at lower prices. During the period from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. fleet of 99 power reactors (all considered to be “Generation II”) operated at an average net capacity factor of 90.41% (net capacity factor = actual power delivered / design electrical rating). This fleet of reactors has a combined generating capacity of about 100 GW, which represents about 20% of the total U.S. generating capacity.

Nuclear power plants do not currently receive subsidies commonly given to solar and wind power generators. For many U.S. utility executives, nuclear power plants are becoming financial liabilities in their generating portfolios. While some states are discussing ways to deliver financial relief for nuclear power plants operating within their borders, other states appear willing to let the plants close in spite of their real contributions to GHG reduction, grid stability, and the state and local economy.

Following are several examples of nuclear plant early retirements.

1.1. Exelon announced planned closure dates for Clinton and Quad Cities

The current operating license for the Clinton nuclear plant expires 29 September 2026 and the licenses for Quad Cities 1 & 2 expire on 14 December 2032. For the period 2013 – 2015, these nuclear power plants operated at very high capacity factors:

  • Quad Cities 1:     964 MWe @ 101.27%
  • Quad Cities 2:     957 MWe @ 92.68%
  • Clinton:              1,062 MWe @ 91.39%

On 2 June 2016, Exelon announced plans to retire the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants on 1 June 2017 and 1 June 2018, respectively. This action was taken after the state failed to pass comprehensive energy legislation that would have offered financial relief to the utility. Also, Quad Cities was not selected in a reserve capacity auction that would have provided some needed future revenue. If the plants are closed as currently scheduled, Exelon will walk away from about 33 GW-years of carbon-free electric power generation.

You can read the Exelon press release at the following link:

http://www.exeloncorp.com/newsroom/clinton-and-quad-cities-retirement

1.2. PGE announced Diablo Canyon 1 & 2 closure

The two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is the last operating nuclear power station in California. In the three-year period from 2013 – 2015, unit performance was as follows:

  • Diablo Canyon 1:     1,138 MWe @ 90.29%
  • Diablo Canyon 2:     1,151 MWe @ 88.19%

Diablo-Canyon-aerial-c-PGESource: PGE

On 21 June 2016, PGE issued a press release announcing that they will withdraw their application to the NRC for a 20-year license extension for the Diablo Canyon 1 & 2 nuclear power plants and will close these plants by 2025 when their current operating licenses expire.  PGE will walk away from about 41 GW-years of carbon-free electric power generation.

You can read the PGE press release at the following link:

https://www.pge.com/en/about/newsroom/newsdetails/index.page?title=20160621_in_step_with_californias_evolving_energy_policy_pge_labor_and_environmental_groups_announce_proposal_to_increase_energy_efficiency_renewables_and_storage_while_phasing_out_nuclear_power_over_the_next_decade

1.3. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) decided to close Fort Calhoun

With a net output of about 476 MWe, Fort Calhoun is the smallest power reactor operating in the U.S. In 2006, the Fort Calhoun operating license was extended to 2033. This plant operates as part of a power cooperative and is not subject to the same market forces as merchant plants. Nonetheless, the price of electricity delivered to customers is still an important factor.

On 16 June 2016, the OPPD Board announced their decision to close Fort Calhoun by the end of 2016 and stated that the closure was based simply on economic factors: it was much cheaper to buy electricity on the wholesale market than to continue operating Fort Calhoun. It cost OPPD about $71 per megawatt-hour in 2015 to generate power at Fort Calhoun. This is double the national industry average of $35.50 and much more than the open market price of about $20 per megawatt-hour.

You can read more about the Fort Calhoun closure in the OPPD press release at the following link:

http://www.oppd.com/news-resources/news-releases/2016/june/oppd-board-votes-to-decommission-fort-calhoun-station/

1.4. Entergy announced plans to close the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant

The license extension process for the 838 MWe James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in upstate New York was completed in 2008 and the current operating license expires in October 2032. On 2 November 2015, Entergy announced plans to close the plant in late 2016 or early 2017 for economic reasons, primarily:

  • Sustained low current and long-term wholesale energy prices, driven by record low natural gas prices due to the plant’s proximity to the Marcellus shale formation, have reduced the plant’s revenues.
  • Flawed market design fails to recognize or adequately compensate nuclear generators for their benefits (i.e., large-scale 24/7 generation, contribution to grid reliability, carbon-free generation)
  • The plant carries a high cost structure because it is a single unit.
  • The region has excess power supply and low demand.

You can read the Entergy press release at the following link:

http://www.entergynewsroom.com/latest-news/entergy-close-jamesfitzpatrick-nuclear-power-plant-central-new-york/

1.5. New Your state is considering operating subsidies for nuclear power plants

Finally, here’s some good news. In July 2016, the New York Public Services Commission (PSC) announced that it was considering subsidies for nuclear power plants operating in the state:

“The Public Service Commission is considering a proposed component of the Clean Energy Standard (CES) to encourage the preservation of the environmental values or attributes of zero-emission nuclear-powered electric generating facilities for the benefit of the electric system, its customers and the environment.”

This proposal offers to award zero-emissions credits (ZEC) in six 2-year tranches, beginning 1 April 2017. The price to be paid for ZECs would be determined by a formula that includes published estimates of the social cost of carbon (SCC). Under the PSC staff’s approach, “the zero-emission attribute payments will never exceed the calculated value they produce.”

Details of the PSC staff’s proposed methodology for determining subsidies for nuclear power plants are in a document entitled “Staff’s Responsive Proposal for Preserving Zero-Emissions Attributes,” which you can download at the following link:

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=“Staff’s+Responsive+Proposal+for+Preserving+Zero-Emissions+Attributes%2C

A short article on the proposed subsidies was published on 12 July 2016 on the Power magazine website at the following link:

http://www.powermag.com/subsidies-proposed-for-new-yorks-upstate-nuclear-power-plants/

No doubt this approach to establishing zero-emissions credits for nuclear power plants will be closely watched by other states that are faced with this same issue of nuclear power plant early retirement for economic reasons. Hopefully, Entergy will reconsider its planned closure of the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant.

2.  Fewer large, new Generation III advanced light water reactor plants are being built than expected

Since the start of the nuclear renaissance, 27 combined license (COL) applications were submitted to the NRC for construction and operation of new Gen III advanced light water reactor plants. You can see the current status of COLs for new reactors in the U.S. on the NRC’s website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col.html

A summary of the current COL status is as follows:

  • 7 withdrawn
  • 6 NRC review suspended
  • 7 under review
  • 7 issued (Fermi 3, South Texas Project 3 & 4, V. C. Summer 2 & 3, and Vogtle 3 & 4)

Recent actions are highlighted below.

2.1 Entergy withdrew its NRC license application for the River Bend unit 3 nuclear power plant

The NRC confirmed that, effective 21 June 2016, Entergy had withdrawn its application for a COL for a single unit of the General Electric Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at the River Bend site in Louisiana. This is the end of a series of delays initiated by Entergy. On 9 June 2009, Entergy requested that the NRC temporarily suspend the COL application review, including any supporting reviews by external agencies, until further notice.   The NRC granted this suspension. On 4 December 2015, Entergy Operations, Inc., filed to have their COL application withdrawn.

2.2 Three of the seven approved Gen III plants may never be built: Fermi-3 and STP 3 & 4.

  • Fermi 3: On 7 May 2015, NRC announced that the Fermi-3 COL had been issued. After the COL was issued, DTE Energy is reported to have said it has no immediate plans to build Fermi 3, and sought the approval as a long-term planning option. If built, Fermi 3 will be a GE-Hitachi ESBWR.
  • South Texas Project (STP) 3 & 4: In April 2015, NRG shelved plans to finance STP 3 & 4. NRG spokesman David Knox said, “The economics of new nuclear just don’t permit the construction of those units today.” Nonetheless, NRG continued the NRC review process and NRC issued the COLs for STP Units 3 and 4 on 12 February 2016. If built, STP 3 & 4 will be Toshiba Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs).

2.3 Only four of the seven approved Gen III plants are actually under construction: V. C. Summer 2 & 3, and Vogtle 3 & 4.

So far, the net results of the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. are these four new Gen III plants, plus the resurrected Watts Bar 2 Gen II nuclear plant (construction stopped in 1980; not completed and operational until 2015).

  • C. Summer 2 & 3: Both units are under construction. These are Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR plants. In February 2016, South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. (SCE&G) reported that 85% of the major equipment necessary to build Units 2 and 3 was onsite. Most of the remaining equipment has been manufactured and was awaiting transport to the site.
  • Vogtle 3 & 4: Both units are both under construction. These are Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR plants. Southern Company provides an overview of their construction status at the following link:

http://www.southerncompany.com/what-doing/energy-innovation/nuclear-energy/photos.cshtml

 Vogtle constructionVogtle 3 & 4 under construction. Source: Southern Company

2.4. Good news: Blue Castle Holdings is planning a 2-unit AP-1000 plant in Utah

Blue Castle Holdings conducted a project overview “webinar” on July 21, 2016 to kickoff its contractor selection process for this new plant. The preliminary schedule calls for the start of work in 2020, “as permitted by the NRC.” This will be an important project to watch, since it may become the first new nuclear power plant project since the first round of applications at the start of the nuclear renaissance. You can read more about the Blue Castle plant at the following link:

http://www.bluecastleproject.com

3.  The prospects for small, modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced Generation IV reactors will not be realized for a long time

Currently there are no SMRs or Gen IV reactors in any stage of a licensing process that could lead to a generic design certification or a combined license (COL) for a specific plant.

On 7 – 8 June 2016, the DOE and NRC co-hosted a second workshop on advanced non-light water reactors, which was a follow-on to a similar workshop held in September 2015. You can read the summary report and access all of the presentation material from the June 2016 workshop at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/conference-symposia/adv-rx-non-lwr-ws/2016-06.html

The DOE presentation by John E. Kelly entitled, “Vision and Strategy for the Development and Deployment of Advanced Reactors,” includes the following timeline that shows projected U.S. nuclear generating capacity for four scenarios.

  • The declining blue, brown and green curves show the generating capacity available from the existing fleet of power reactors depending on the length of their operating licenses (40, 60, or 80 years), and of course, assuming that there are few early plant closures for economic reasons.
  • The upper purple line represents total nuclear generating capacity needed to maintain nuclear at about 20% of the total U.S. generating capacity. Significant growth in demand is expected due to electrification of transportation and other factors, creating a demand for 200 GW of nuclear generated electricity by about 2050. This is double the current U.S. nuclear generating capacity!!

DOE addvanced reactor timelineSource: DOE

Among all the presentations in the 2016 workshop, there is no mention of where the capital comes from to build all of the new nuclear power plants needed to meet the expectation of 200 GW of nuclear generating capacity by 2050. If the expected economic advantages of SMRs and Gen IV plants fail to materialize, then construction cost per gigawatt of electrical generating capacity could be similar to current Gen III construction costs, which are on the order of $5 to 6 billion per gigawatt. This puts a price tag of $1.0 to 1.2 trillion on the deployment of 200 GW of new nuclear generating capacity. The actual amount isn’t particularly important. Just be aware that it’s a very big number. This leads me to believe that the above timeline is quite optimistic.

3.1. mPower SMR program has faltered

There was considerable optimism when the mPower program was launched more than a decade ago. This program probably is further along in its design and development processes than other U.S. SMR candidates. Unfortunately, mPower has been in decline for the past two years, during which time the mPower team head count fell from about 600 to less than 200 people. That reduction in force and slowdown in development occurred after the B&W board of directors (parent of BWXT) decided to reduce spending on mPower from about $100 million per year to a maximum of $15 million per year. The official explanation was that the company had failed in its effort to find additional major investors to participate in the project.

On 4 March 2016, there was good news to report when Bechtel and BWXT issued a press release announcing that they had reached an agreement to accelerate the development of the mPower SMR. No timeline was given for submitting an application for design certification to the NRC. You can read this press release at the following link:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bechtel-bwxt-to-pursue-acceleration-of-small-modular-nuclear-reactor-project-300231048.html

On 13 May 2016, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) applied to the NRC for an early site permit for SMRs at the Clinch River site in Tennessee. In its application, TVA did not specify the reactor type, but previously had considered mPower for that site. The NRC is expected to decide in July 2016 if the application contains sufficient information to start the early site permit review process.

3.2. Other U.S. SMR candidates have not gotten beyond pre-application meetings with the NRC

The other U.S. SMR candidates are:

  • NuScale (NuScale Power, LLC)
  • SMR-160 (SMR Inventec, a Holtec International Company)
  • Integrated PWR (Westinghouse)

None have submitted an application for design certification to the NRC.

3.3. The DOE Generation IV (Gen IV) reactor program continues to slip

Gen IV reactors are intended to be the next generation of commercial power reactors, incorporating a variety of advanced technologies to deliver improved safety, reliability and economics.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) was created in January 2000 by 9 countries, and today has 13 members, all of which are signatories of the founding document, the GIF Charter. For basic information, you can download DOE’s Gen IV fact sheet at the following Argonne National Laboratory link:

http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/genIV/

On this fact sheet, you will find the following claim:

“Generation IV nuclear energy systems target significant advances over current-generation and evolutionary systems in the areas of sustainability, safety and reliability, and economics. These systems are to be deployable by 2030 in both industrialized and developing countries.”

You can view a more detailed 2014 presentation by the GIF at the following link:

https://www.gen-4.org/gif/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-03/gif-tru2014.pdf

In this GIF presentation, you can see the significant schedule slip that has occurred between their 2002 and the 2013 roadmaps.

GIF Gen IV roadmap

Source: Gen IV International Forum

At the slow rate that DOE and its international GIF partners are actually making progress, I suspect that there will not even be a working Gen IV demonstration plant of any type before 2030, and certainly none in the U.S.

4. Important infrastructure facilities in the U.S. commercial reactor fuel cycle have been cancelled

Nuclear power plants are part of a fuel cycle, which for the U.S. has been a once-through (“throw-away”) fuel cycle since President Carter’s 7 April 1977 decision to discontinue work on a closed fuel cycle with nuclear fuel reprocessing. “Head-end” fuel cycle facilities include mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, and fuel manufacturing. These are the facilities that take uranium and/or plutonium from various sources and produce the desired nuclear fuel that is incorporated into the fuel elements that ultimately are installed in a reactor. “Back-end” fuel cycle facilities deal with the spent fuel elements and nuclear waste generated from reactor operation and other fuel cycle activities. In the once-through fuel cycle, the spent fuel is stored at the nuclear reactor where it was used until it can be transported to a nuclear waste repository for final disposition.

Two important nuclear fuel cycle facilities have been cancelled by the Obama administration: the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository and the Savannah River Mixed-oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. These cancellations have the effect of adding cost and uncertainty for the utilities operating commercial power reactors.

4.1. DOE has not developed plans for a replacement for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waster Repository

As is well known by now, the DOE abrogated its responsibility to develop a deep geologic site as the national commercial nuclear waste repository. Congress established this DOE role in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated as the national repository site in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987. Congress approved the Yucca Mountain project in 2002, and the project was docketed for licensing by the NRC in 2008, as Docket 63-001.

Yucca Mountain effectively was terminated in 2011 when the Obama administration removed funding for the project from the DOE budget. The NRC licensing process was suspended at the same time.

In August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals (Wash DC) ruled that the NRC was obligated to continue their Yucca Mountain licensing process and either “approve or reject the Energy Department’s application for [the] never-completed waste storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.” Finally, in January 2015, the NRC staff completed the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for Yucca Mountain, which is available at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1949/

Here are the basis conclusions presented in the SER:

  • NRC staff finds that DOE’s application meets most, but not all, of the applicable NRC regulatory requirements.
    • Requirements not met are related to certain conditions of land ownership and water rights.
  • NRC staff therefore does not recommend issuance of a construction authorization at this time.

The current status of Yucca Mountain licensing is summarized in a January 2016 NRC presentation, “NRC Review Activities for the Proposed High-level Radioactive Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada,” which is available at the following link:

https://www.inmm.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Events/PastEvents/31stSpentFuelSeminar/W2-Rubenstone_INMM_DC_Jan2016.pdf

In this presentation, the author, James Rubenstone, identifies licensing actions still to be completed for the Yucca Mountain site and notes that, “Further progress of the review and licensing activities requires further appropriations.”   In March 2015, the NRC reported that completing its Yucca Mountain licensing process would cost an additional $330 million.

On 5 May 2016, the NRC issued the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) supplement for Yucca Mountain. This is not the end of the EIS process. There still remain about 300 contentions against the project that must be adjudicated. However, the adjudicatory process remains suspended.

In his January 2016 presentation, James Rubenstone also noted that, “New approaches for waste management and disposal have been proposed, but require dedicated funding and (in some cases) changes to existing law.”

So the bottom line is simply that this nation is very far, probably several decades, from having a national repository for commercial nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.

The burden for managing spent nuclear fuel remains with the U.S. nuclear utilities, which had been paying DOE for decades to develop the national nuclear waste repository. The current utility approach involves on-site management of spent fuel, initially in the spent fuel storage pool, and later in dry storage in canisters or casks that provide radiation shielding and protect the spent fuel from external hazards. These dry storage facilities typically are called Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSI). Nuclear utilities have added ISFSIs specifically to cope with the failure of DOE to complete the national nuclear waste repository as required by Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.

You can find a good overview of ISFSI design and deployment at commercial power reactor sites on the NRC website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/dry-cask-storage.html

For those of you wanting more information on the Yucca Mountain project, I refer you to the recently published a two-volume, 920-page book entitled, “Waste of a Mountain,” by Michael Voegele and Donald Vieth. The book is on sale at the Pahrump Valley Museum with the proceeds going to the museum.  You’ll find the book at the following link:

http://pahrumpvalleymuseum.org/index.html

Waste of a MountainSource: Pahrump Valley Museum

4.2. DOE plans to halt construction of the Savannah River mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility (MFFF)

MFFFSource: DOE

The commitment to build the MOX facility is part of a 2000 agreement between the U.S. and Russia known as the amended U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). The goal of PDMA is to neutralize 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by using it in MOX fuel for commercial power reactors. In its FY-2017 budget proposal, DOE makes clear that MFFF will be terminated:

“Aerospace Corporation completed two reports documenting its assessment of the April 2014 analysis. Additionally, in June 2015 the Secretary of Energy assembled a Red Team to assess options for the disposition of surplus weapon-grade plutonium. These analyses confirm that the MOX fuel approach will be significantly more expensive than anticipated and will require approximately $800 million to $1 billion annually for decades. As a result, the FY 2017 budget proposes that the MOX project be terminated.”

Final termination is scheduled to be complete in fiscal year 2019.

Instead of MFFF, DOE will develop a “dilute and dispose” (D&D) process that involves storage of diluted plutonium in metal containers placed in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, NM. This process will derive no economic value from the energy content of the weapons-grade plutonium.   You will find the complete DOE budget proposal at the following link:

http://energy.gov/cfo/downloads/fy-2017-budget-justification

Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said, “The reality of it is that without the MOX facility we cannot honor our agreement with the Russians.’’

4. In conclusion

The nuclear renaissance is over in the U.S. The expected long-term availability of low-price natural gas makes it difficult or impossible for nuclear power plants to generate electricity at a competitive price.

A future nuclear renaissance could be enabled if many states in this nation take the bold steps proposed by the New York Public Services Commission (PSC) to recognize the importance of nuclear power in the state’s generation portfolio and provide adequate financial incentives to nuclear utilities so they can operate profitably, extend the lives of existing nuclear plants, and build new nuclear plants.