Bloomberg reports Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, France's Areva, and Japan Nuclear Fuel will form a joint venture in the U.S. to focus on building fast reactor nuclear plants and fuel reprocessing facilities. The company will seek to make their fast breeder technology a global standard according to the Japanese Sankei newspaper.
A demonstration fast breeder reactor that will burn MOX fuel is expected to start operations in 2015. The U.S. is building a $4.8 billion MOX fuel facility in South Carolina which is expected to be operational about the same time. It follows that if Mitsubishi decides to commercialize the FBR design and sell plants in the U.S. it would find a ready supply of MOX fuel to run them. Japan Nuclear Fuel is also building a MOX fuel facility, but its production is expected to be used solely in Japan.
The announcement this week in Japan means the companies are going ahead with plans for the reactor and fuel processing projects in the U.S. without the possibility of federal government funding to build the combined facilities which could cost upwards of $15 billion. Earlier this month DOE took these facilities off the table in terms of a site selection and funding decision for GNEP expected in June 2008.
Background on Japan's FBR program
The history of the announcement is, according to the World Nuclear Organization, in September 2006 a Japanese government nuclear R&D group put forward a compact sodium-cooled design for a Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) of 1500 MWe using MOX fuel which it expected to be competitive with advanced LWR designs.
In April 2007 the government selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the core company to develop a new generation of FBRs. Mitsubishi FBR Systems will operate as a specialist company, also responsible for a joint project with Areva and Japan Nuclear Fuel for work on the US Advanced Recycling Reactor project as a part of GNEP. In June 2007 MHI reportedly proposed a loop-type fast reactor concept that uses liquid-metal sodium for the reactor coolant [Large image].
The three companies involved in the FBR project were also partners on the proposed GNEP plants aimed at an Idaho location. Earlier this month DOE took the fast reactor and fuel reprocessing elements out of the PEIS which effectively ends the near term prospects for the Idaho proposal. While there is a substantial information on MHI's FBR work, less is known about its plans for spent fuel reprocessing. Areva and MHI worked together to build the Rokkasho fuel reprocessing plant in Japan, using technologies developed by the French partner to construct France’s reprocessing plant at La Hague.
Last October the consortium was one of four teams awarded a contract by the Department of Energy to conduct a total of $16.3 million in conceptual design studies for GNEP plants. The recent change to the PEIS means it is unlikely the government will commit to anything beyond paper studies. The risk of full commercialization will be borne by any firms that choose to go down that path.
List of contractors for GNEP conceptual design work
The four consortium receiving GNEP conceptual design contracts include;
- AREVA AND MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD. ($5.6 MILLION) Principal Team Members: Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited; Battelle Memorial Institute; BWX Technologies, Inc.; and Washington Group International ENERGY SOLUTIONS, LLC
- ENERGY SOLUTIONS) ($4.3 Million) Principal Team Members: The Shaw Group and Westinghouse Electric Company. Additional members: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL); Booz Allen Hamilton; Nexia Solutions; Nuclear Fuel Services; and Toshiba.
- GE-HITACHI NUCLEAR AMERICAS, LLC (GE-HITACHI) ($4.8 Million) Team Members: Burns and Roe; Ernst & Young; Fluor Corporation; International Business Machines (IBM); and Lockheed Martin.
- GENERAL ATOMICS (GENERAL ATOMICS) ($1.6 Million) Team Members: CH2M Hill; United Technologies Corporation - Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne Division (UTC); a Russian consortium led by OKB Mechanical Engineering (OKBM); Potomac Communications Group; LISTO; and KAERI.