B&W wows everyone with a conceptual design for a small reactor
The marketing buzz was in the 125 decibel range for the announcement by Babcock & Wilcox that the firm has plans for a new “modular” reactor that would generate 125 MW of electricity. Just so we’re clear, they haven’t built one yet.
Rod Adams at Atomic Insights blog has several reports including videos from the press conference held earlier this week. Check it out.
The firm said at the press conference it hopes to sign a contract with the first customer by 2011 and have one in revenue service by 2018. At an estimated $4,000/Kw, a number cited by the firm in press interviews, a unit would cost $500 million.
Like other small reactor designs, the B&W reactor must get a license from the NRC. The good news for B&W is that their design is based on conventional light-water-reactor principles, and uranium enriched to 5%, which may make it easier for the regulatory agency to wrap its head around a design that isn’t at least 1,000 MW. Note that Nuscale Power out in Oregon also has a design for small 45 MW LWR reactor.
Other small reactor designs include so-called nuclear batteries from Hyperion and Toshiba. Hyperion wants to sell its 25 MW unit overseas, and could license it there as well bypassing the NRC’s lengthy and costly design certification process. Hyperion says it has signed up customers in eastern Europe which puts it ahead of the pack in terms of time to market.
Another plus for the B&W unit is that customers will not have to wait for Japan Steel Works to agree to build the pressure vessel. The components can be built right here in the U.S. The concept of a reactor that can be shipped to the customer on rail cars and built rapidly and cost effectively on-site based on standardized manufactured components is a compelling one.
It won’t be a case of add water and microwave. In an industry where “is it soup yet” takes four years of paperwork and five years of construction, that’s a big deal if it can be done.
NRG raises cost estimate for STP
While B&W was downsizing the design of light water reactors, NRG was announcing that the two GE-Hitachi ABWR reactors, at 1,350 MW each, would cost $10 billion. This is a 40% increase from the price announced in September 2007 when the firm was the nation’s “first mover” in filing a license application with the NRC.
NRG executives explained the cost increase this way. According to Reuters they said the firm’s goal in developing two new reactors at the South Texas Project has been to reduce regulatory, financing and construction risks. They are doing this by partnering with Toshiba and choosing a nuclear design that has been built within budget and on schedule in Japan.Steve Winn, CEO, told Reuters,
"We know how much concrete; we know how much steel was used in the existing units. By building a unit that has been built four times before, we have a very specific cost estimate."
He pointed out that in Texas the competitive electric market also forces NRG to get a grip on its costs so it can contract to sell its output at a profit. In a regulated market, utilities are allowed to earn a guaranteed return on their investment.
"The incentive in a regulated world is to say the number is huge," Winn said. "In an unregulated world, the incentive is to say the number is accurate."
NRG is also in the running as one of four firms short-listed for Department of Energy loan guarantees if the agency can ever get the paperwork moving towards a decision. Steven Chu, the new DOE Secretary has publically castigated his own agency for its slow pace in processing the applications. NRG said they’d been told the DOE will make a decision later this year. The agency was authorized by Congress to issue the loan insurance in 2005.
NRG also is still in the hunt for investment partners, a situation which is likely to improve once it has the DOE loan guarantees in hand. Austin, TX, which is an investor in STP Units 1&2 declined to invest in the two new units, but it looks like the municipal utility in San Antonio, which also owns shares in units 1&2, will be an investor in units 3 & 4.
UAE moving towards nuclear reactor in 2015
The IAEA has told the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that its projection of having a new nuclear power plant in revenue service in 2015 was “optimistic.” Reuters reports that the UAE wants to fast track the development of a new nuclear plant and will award a contract to build as many as three units for 5 GWe of power by the end of 2009.
However, Ali Boussaha, a director at the IAEA, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai. "I think this is optimistic because it generally takes 10-15 years to get people trained and infrastructure in place."
A race is on by nuclear energy vendors who are competing for an estimated $40-60 billion life cycle in the new plants which includes the reactors, fuel for 60 years, as well as operations and maintenance of the plants.
Observers inside the UAE told this blog the UAE is determined to move ahead as fast as possible on the project. The UAE is expected to short-list firms to submit proposals by September 2009. An award for the massive project could be made as early as December 2009.
French oil giant Total, which is partnered with French construction giant GDF Suez, has said it expects to win the award taking a 49% stake in the project. If that happens the consortium will turn to French nuclear giant Areva to supply the reactors.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy (right) has put his personal prestige on the line for the deal visiting the UAE to ink military contracts and to press for award of the nuclear energy contracts to his country.
Meanwhile, the UAE has asked the U.S. Congress to approve an agreement to allow it to buy nuclear technologies from U.S. firms such as GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse. The agreement will likely see Congressional action before the summer adjournment. If Congress gives the agreement a green light, it could put considerable competitive pressure on the French bid.
Italy will generate nuclear power by 2018
Dow Jones News Wires reports that Italy will generate electricity from a new nuclear reactor by 2018. Energy Minister Claudio Scajola said construction could start as early as 2013. He also said the country has a goal of generating 25% of its electricity from nuclear power. He pledged that such developments would see Italian electricity bills, the highest in Europe, drop by as much as 30% once the new nuclear plants come online in the next decade.
Obama nominates a nuke for DOE post
In a surprise move the “green” Obama administration nominated a second person for a post at the Department of Energy who actually knows something about nuclear energy. The first was Steven Chu who is now the Energy Secretary.
Warren F. Miller, Jr., Ph.D, (right) a 27-year veteran of Los Alamos, is a sterling candidate to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Charles Barton blogging at NuclearGreen has done the heavy lifting in developing a profile of Mr. Miller. So you probably want to wander over there and read it.
Miller is also a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society. If he shows up in Atlanta next week, I’ll try to get an news interview with him for my live blogging from the ANS annual conference.
The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. Given his excellent credentials, there should be little trouble in getting through the process.
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