Saturday, February 18, 2012

NGNP Alliance selects Areva HTGR design

An industry consortium seeks a sharper focus on process heat applications

The Next Generation Nuclear Plant Industry Alliance Ltd. (NGNP Industry Alliance) announced this week that it has selected the AREVA Generation IV reactor concept as the optimum design for next generation nuclear plants.  The AREVA design is a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) and would provide a source of nuclear energy with inherent safety features and zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“Commercialization of next-generation nuclear technology is a critical component of securing clean sources of energy for the future,” said Fred Moore, Executive Director of NGNP Industry Alliance.  “HTGR is the game changing technology for clean, safe nuclear energy production.” 

The AREVA HTGR technology’s capability and modular design would support a broad range of market sectors, providing highly-efficient energy to industries such as electrical power generation, petrochemicals, non-conventional oil recovery and synthetic fuel production (see NGNP list of member organizations).

Areva focus on customer requirements

In a simultaneous statement Feb 15, Areva COO Mike Rencheck said the industrial end-use requirements have been the primary consideration for selection of this advanced technology over other small reactors.

"The co-generation aspects offer long-term predictable energy supply."

In a conference call with nuclear energy bloggers held Friday Feb 17, Areva Chief Technology Officer Finis Southworth explained that the "NGNP Alliance wants a sharper focus on technology for process heat."

He said that ten years ago the quest for a new design for a high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR) has dual objectives - hydrogen production and process heat.  The reasons he said are that existing light water reactor (LWR) designs are not well suited to non-electric energy markets.

Since then R&D has gone down two somewhat separate paths divided by the materials sciences challenges associated with reactor outlet temperature.

For the NGNP Alliance, choice of the Areva design, a reactor outlet temperature of 750C provides sufficient heat to produce conventional steam temperatures of 400-550C for applications like oil refinery distillation and chemical processing.

Southworth said the primary heat is carried from the reactor in a closed loop by helium and the steam is super heated but not super critical.

He added that at temperatures above 750C the materials challenges become more significant and so do the costs. That's why for now the current technology roadmap, conceptually speaking, uses the lower temperature. (For more details readers are referred to the NGNP Briefings on HTGR Technology)

Competitive advantages of NGNP

Members of the NGNP Alliance, including major petro-chemical manufacturers, are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for process heat. They have three long-term concerns - environment, energy security, and price volatility.

Southworth pointed out that about 20% of U.S. energy consumption goes into process heat applications.  He said that the effect of replacing fossil fuel with nuclear energy, for process heat applications, will make industry products that depend on them more competitive.  The key reasons are reduced regulatory risks in terms of environmental issues, increased dependability in terms of energy supply, and stable pricing of the energy to produce process heat.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every 750 MWt of installed HTGR capacity will offset 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year when compared to a similarly sized natural gas plant.

NGNP by the Numbers
Data Source: Summary Decision Paper NGNP Alliance 02/07/2012
History of NGNP

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 called for development, construction, and operation of a prototype HTGR by 2021.  DOE set up a project office at the Idaho National Laboratory that included some of the R&D activities.  Based on and RFP, DOE selected three firms to conduct design and engineering studies - General Atomics, Westinghouse, and Areva.

Both the Idaho lab and the NGNP Alliance determined that the only practical differentiation among the designs is tied to capital costs.  The Alliance said the prismatic design offers a 30% cost savings over one using pebble bed technology which is why they chose it.

Next Step - Licensing

The NGNP Alliance is developing a regulatory strategy to identify key issues related to getting a license from the NRC.  Southworth said the combination of licensing and building a first-of-a-kind unit could take 10-12 years to get one operating at a customer site.  He estimates that with start-up schedules, the first customer would be reaping benefits from the technology in the time frame of 2024-2027. it could be sooner depending on the outcomes of design and regulatory processes and actual construction of a first-of-a-kind unit.

Areva envisions that the HTGR will be installed at customer suites in clusters of up to four units.  A key regulatory issue will be whether the NRC will establish a rule that will authorize a single control room to manage multiple units. It all depends on how the agency sees this issue from the perspective of plant safety.

He added the Alliance and the NRC realize there is a need to develop a regulatory framework for some aspects of the technology such as ceramic core components and helium coolant.

"This is part of the open discussion with the NRC," Southworth said. It is included in the Alliance's pre-application dialog with the agency.

(Areva staff refer readers to an NRC Regulatory Issue Paper on licensing SMRs).  For a review of NGNP licensing topics, see this INL briefing.  Here's a short list of some of the safety issues.

Establishment and implementation of a risk informed performance 
based based licensing approach licensing approach
• Licensing Basis Event Selection
• Classification of Structures, Systems, & Components
• Defense in Depth in Depth
– Fission Product Transport Characteristics
– Fuel qualification program
– Accident Accident analysis source term definition analysis source term definition
– Emergency planning requirements for industrial facility siting
– Control room configuration &; staffing for a multi-module facility

Fuel Cycle

The fuel for the HTGR uses TRISO fuel particles with 18 month cycles.

"The reactor uses a lot less fuel than a 1000 MW reactor, "Southworth said, and he added, "it's about three tons compared to 100 tons."
Conceptual Diagram - NGNP Reactor Core
Image Source: NGNP Alliance
Spent fuel management will be carried out by putting the spent fuel into dry ground cooling after which it can be sent to a permanent disposal facility.  Unlike a conventional LWR, there is no water in the cooling system nor is there wet storage of spent fuel.

Comparative costs to build and operate one?

Areva told the nuclear bloggers the total cost, including R&D, for the first unit will be about $4 billion, but Southworth said the "nth unit" will have actual construction costs of about $1 billion.  Comparing process heat costs, he added that the "nth of a kind" HTGR will supply process heat at about $6-10/mbtu.

While natural gas prices in the U.S. are unusually low, about $3/mbtu, that isn't always going to be the case and no one knows what the price will be by 2025.  Natural gas prices are much higher in Europe. Southworth said he's seeing prices for natural gas in Europe and Asia as high as $12-15/mbtu.

According to a Bloomberg wire service report for 02/17/2012, the day of the nuclear blogger conference call, the price of natural gas in the U.K., which benefits from its North Sea resources, was $9.16/mbtu.  Crude oil rose to $103/barrel, the highest price since May 2011.  It's clear from these data why energy price stability for chemical firms with 50-year planning horizons for capital projects is so important.

One potential customer, a member of the Alliance, is Dow Chemical.  Southworth noted the firm uses the energy equivalent of one million barrels of oil a day.  It wants to replace oil as the fuel with energy from an HTGR to produce process heat. 

Another advantage is that at certain times related to changes in plant production cycles, surplus energy from the NGNP reactor can be converted to electricity, albiet at a 20% higher cost then conventional LWR.  Even so selling this electricity to the grid at market prices will help defray the cost of operations.

Success will be measured in terms of securing long-term energy supply with nuclear energy generated process heat located at the customer site and not from an oil well 8,000 miles away.

It will take some time to get there, but with the announcement this week, the NGNP Alliance says it is on its way.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

UK & France in major nuclear reactor deal

UK Prime Minister Cameron deals directly with French President Sarkozy
EDF, Rolls Royce, and Areva will benefit

Two French nuclear giants, EDF and Areva, and Rolls-Royce, the flagship nuclear firm in the UK, are signing deals worth {l}500 million ($791 million) to build new nuclear reactors in the UK. (EDF press release)

The deals are focused on the first new build at Hinkley Point in the UK.  EDF has referenced the 1600 MW Areva EPR reactor design for that site.

The UK government said in a statement the deal will create 1500 new jobs. The statement went on to point out the agreement advances greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, who is in Paris to meet the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to seal the deal, said the agreements were “just the beginning” of investment the government says could be worth £60 billion and create 30,000 jobs.

Good for climate change

The government said the joint declaration to be signed today will signal “our shared commitment to the future of civil nuclear power, setting out a shared long term vision of safe, secure, sustainable and affordable energy, that supports growth and helps to deliver our emission reductions targets."

Mark Lynas, writing in the Guardian, agrees the deal is good for climate change.

"This matters, because within the next 10 years all but one of our current fleet of nuclear reactors will be decommissioned – meaning the UK will lose nearly a fifth of its electricity-generation capacity, all of it zero-carbon. Even if we build windmills flat-out and stick solar panels on as many buildings as we can afford, this lost nuclear capacity must be urgently replaced – or Britain's carbon emissions will inevitably rise as we burn more coal and gas to bridge the gap."

The announcement comes just eight months after the Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis. It demonstrates the commitment of the two nations to use nuclear energy to address their needs for electricity.  The UK government has identified eight sites for new reactors. (see table below)

According to the UK statement, the two governments will work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to strengthen international capability to react to nuclear emergencies and establish a joint framework for cooperation and exchanging good practice on civil nuclear security.

Deal highlights

NucNet reports that highlights of the deal include;

• A £100 million contract with a construction consortium to prepare the Hinkley Point nuclear site in Somerset for construction of two European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs).

• A £15 million training campus at Bridgewater in Somerset to train the next generation of nuclear workers.

• A deal with Rolls Royce for key components that could be worth potentially up to £400 million.  Rolls Royce plans to build a purpose-built factory in Rotherham, northern England, which is also the site of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which helps firms become certified nuclear suppliers.

A Rolls Royce spokesman said the hope is that the factory will become “some sort of springboard” for nuclear export orders in future.

A key isue facing EDF and the other firms planning to build nuclear power plants in the UK is that they are merchants.  They cannot recover construction costs until the plants enter revenue service.

Challenges ahead

A nuclear energy expert with experience in the UK told this blog the current UK government was elected with a strong pledge to not subsidize new nuclear.

In summary the expert said the UK government has developed a set of incentives as a part of a wider Electricity Market Reform.  In August 2011, the basic principles  of the reforms were approved, with carbon floor prices, low-carbon, base load generation, etc.

But the second important stage, setting carbon prices, has not taken place. The government now says it will release that information in May 2012.

The delay adds a factor of uncertainty to the futue of the UK new build.  Natural gas prices will rise over time so that may be less of a factor by the time the reactors come online by the end of this decade.

Scope of the UK new build

In November 2011 EDF Energy applied for consent from the UK’s Infrastructure Planning Commission to build and operate two new nuclear reactor units at Hinkley Point.  The France-based utility plans to construct the two EPRs to the west of its existing Hinkley Point B nuclear plant, where there are two units in commercial operation.

Critical Mass
New nuclear reactors in the U.K.
Site Consortium Year MW
Bradwell EDF, Centrica 2024 1,600
Heysham EDF, Centrica 2025 1,600
Hinkley Point EDF, Centrica 2018 1,600
Hinkley Point EDF, Centrica 2019 1,600
Oldbury RWE, Eon, & Npower 2023 1,600
Sellafield GDF Suez, Iberdola 2022 1,600
Sellafield GDF Suez, Iberdola 2025 1,600
Sizewell EDF, Centrica 2022 1,600
Sizewell EDF, Centrica 2022 1,600
Wylfa RWE, Eon, & Npower 2020 1,100
Wylfa RWE, Eon, & Npower 2022 1,100
Wylfa RWE, Eon, & Npower 2024 1,100
Source: Financial Times May 9, 2011

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

2013 Nuclear energy budgets in a time of deficits

Expectations are limited as Congress looks for places to slash spending

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) find themselves, as usual, in the discretionary part of the federal budget.  With programs not driven by entitlement laws, both agency's live under the perpetual threat of severe funding constraints.

That's why the FY2013 budget request from the White House is a mixed bag. It is a relief that the President, who is nominally pro-nuclear, but mostly pro-green voter, didn't do more damage to both agencies.

It's clear from the Keystone Pipeline decision and the ongoing Yucca Mountain fiasco that the Obama White House can and will throw any project under the bus that threatens to undercut  the green wing of the Democratic Party.  That's political reality. While some House and Senate members rant about it, the proof of pro-nuclear support in Congress will be in the Appropriation Committees' markups later this year.

In a presidential election year, the budget becomes a political football. Still, the numbers represent a starting point so here's a quick summary.

Nuclear energy's light hidden away

In DOE's $27 billion budget request (briefing slides), funding for nuclear energy R&D and new technology development amounts to less than 3% of the entire budget. The agency's priorities are reflected in $11.5 billion (42.5%) for the nuclear weapons complex, including the defense program labs, under civilian control through NNSA.

Environmental management continues to produce budgets driven by federal court consent decrees.  Despite a series of efforts by the federal government over the years to over turn them, DOE's request this year is $5.7 billion or 20% of the entire agency's budget. That's consistent with a $6 billion/year history of spending.

Reflecting Obama's fixation on green politics in a presidential election year, the DOE budget request includes $2.3 billion, or 8.6% of the budget, for energy efficiency and renewables.  Venture capitalists like former VP Al Gore will find comfort in these numbers.

Details of the NE budget

One of the first things that stands out is that the budget request zeros out a $14 million line item for scholarships for nuclear energy engineering education (program fact sheets).  Next, it zeros out a $5 million line item for university programs.

Taken together, there is a clear message that while the Obama Administration gives lip service to nuclear energy, it is cutting off the future of the industry by limiting a skilled workforce to operate current and new plants.

In the world of nuclear reactor R&D, the budget slashes $41 million (-25%) from nuclear reactor R&D and cuts $9 (5%) million from the advanced fuel cycle program.

In a draft funding opportunity announcement issued earlier this year DOE offered $452 million in cost sharing funds over five years to developers of small modular reactors.  The agency plans to make one award, or divide the pot among two firms, by September 2012.

Simple math shows that works out to $90 million a year.  For FY2013 DOE requested $62 million, or about two-thirds of the amount, which is a clear signal to any applicant the agency appears to be short changing its own promises even before it gets the formal RFP ready for publication.

Of course, any funds are better than none at all, and with a deficit minded congress breathing down its neck, DOE might be worried that asking for the full amount would be futile.

Nuclear Regulatory Agency

The NRC's budget request for FY2013 is essentially flat being $1.053 billion v. enacted funding in FY2012 of $1.038 billion. There are moving pieces.  (agency briefing slides)

Nuclear safety increases slightly in terms of dollars, but loses 25 people. The NRC said in a press release the staffing cuts are in support functions.  Even so that means engineers charging utilities $273/hr in reimbursable costs will spend more time shuffling paper instead of analyzing it. It seems the agency is being penny wise and pound foolish with this part of the budget request.

Funding for new reactor licensing remains stagnant in terms of funding and staffing.  Spent fuel storage and transportation gets a slight increase of funds and a few new staff.  Funding for Yucca Mountain remains zeroed out.

Fukushima Near-Term Task Force recommendations and regulatory actions are included in the proposed budget.  Reactor Safety increases by $9.7 million due primarily to implementation of lessons learned recommendations from the near term task force resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The Materials and Waste Safety budget increases by $5.2 million to support activities in Fuel Facilities, Nuclear Materials Users, Spent Fuel Storage and Transportation, and Decommissioning and Low Level Waste Business Lines. The increase is primarily due to increased support to update the Waste Confidence Rule by 2019 and Uranium Recovery Licensing activities.

The NRC gets 90% of its funding through fee recovery from regulated nuclear facilities.  The funds do not go directly to the agency. Instead, they go to the Treasury Dept. and Congress allocates the money to the agency through the appropriation process.

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Czechs temper expectations at Temelin

Europe's biggest nuclear project is chopped from five reactors to two

chopped downAn ambitious plan to build five nuclear reactors in the Czech Republic worth an estimated $28 billion has been scaled back to just two units. The Czech Republic won't build the other three anytime soon, even though Germany and Poland may have been counting on those units to supply electricity. Germany has closed eight of its oldest nuclear reactors and will close another nine by 2022.

Poland just delayed the start date of its first new nuclear power station by five years pushing to start date to 2025, three years after Germany closes its last reactor.

Power that Europe thought it could buy from Czech state-owned utility CEZ, or Poland, has evaporated before it even was lifted off the drawing board. The real winner in the short term will be Russia’s natural gas supplier Gazprom.

Newly installed Czech Industry & Trade Minister Martin Kuba downshifted CEZ’s ambitious goals calling the five-reactor plan "unrealistic," but he did not say what energy mix would be used in its place to meet growing demand for electricity in central Europe. The primary problem likely is how to finance the combination of two new units at Temelin, one at Dukovany, and two more at the Jaslovske Bohunice site in Solvakia.

The Czech government proposed that reactor vendors provide a complete turnkey solution, including up to nine fuel reloads for the new units. As part of the financing. the Czech government would guarantee rates and provide loan guarantees to CEZ as lures to investors. There’s not complete agreement on that approach, but the government is thinking out loud about these ideas.

What may be "unrealistic" is the expectation that investors and reactor vendors would be willing to pump $28 billion into a nuclear power project spread across five new units at three sites. However, a plan for two reactors worth $10 billion at one site, Temelin, seems more likely to fly, especially since the United States just last week licensed two new reactors planned for the Vogtle site in Georgia said to cost $14 billion.

Read the full details exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Good News about Nuclear Energy – February 2012

The NRC's decision to license Vogtle is a plus for investors

chn_hdrlogoFitch Ratings, which determines the relative merits of various investment offerings, said Feb 10 is believes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's  vote to approve combined operating and construction licenses for Southern's Vogtle units 3 & 4, located in Georgia, is a significant milestone for the nuclear industry.

It also said the decision will have limited impact on credit. In 2007 when Southern applied for the licenses, Standard & Poors downgraded the utility's stock based on the risk of cost over runs and litigation that might delay completion of the project.

Fitch cited the fact that the construction of two new 1100 Mw Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors is a significant, long term capital investment in baseload capacity. It pointed out that a substantial share of the costs of the reactors has been funded through debt and that the $14 billion project will rely an $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Read the full story exclusively at CoolHandNuke online now.

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