- Oklo Continues Its Pursuit of an NRC License
- SaskPower Chooses Two SMR Sites to Build on in 2030s
- Czech Republic Targets Temelin Site for 1st SMR by 2032
- China and Argentina Dispute Over Fuel Delays $8B Nuclear Deal
- Third Barakah Nuclear Reactor Starts Up
Oklo Continues Its Pursuit of an NRC License
The nuclear startup’s efforts to obtain a a custom combined license for a compact fast micro-reactor from the NRC has the appearance of being like a classic match up in physics of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
In this case, Oklo Power’s spirit of technology innovation, inspired by the background of its founders having been formed in the crucible of MIT’s nuclear engineering programs, has come up against the bulwark of NRC’s regulatory framework that looks to some to be like the 73 mile long Hadrian’s Wall built by the Roman legions in AD 122 to keep the barbarians at bay. Hadrian’s Wall marked the boundary between Roman Britannia and unconquered Caledonia to the north.
Last January the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied, without prejudice, Oklo Power, LLC.’s application to build and operate the company’s 1.5 MWe Aurora compact fast reactor in Idaho which was first announced in December 2019.
The denial is based on NRC’s finding that Oklo’s failed to provide information on several key topics for the Aurora design. The agency said the company is free to submit a complete application in the future. What it is doing now is part of the renewed effort.
Oklo Inc. has submitted a Licensing Project Plan (LPP) to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), The LPP outlines Oklo’s proposed engagement to support future licensing activities.
The NRC’s regulatory process is a minefield of potential scenarios in which the entire process can blow up in an applicant’s face. When the NRC kicked back Oklo’s application, the nuclear industry took notice. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the US trade group for the industry, said through a spokesman that the NRC needs to update its licensing procedures.
“The next generation of nuclear technologies are being designed with inherent safety features and will require the NRC to modernize their approach in licensing the carbon-free nuclear reactors of the future.”
With more advanced reactors on their way to run the licensing gauntlet, streamlining the process is top of mind for all of them. The application at it start (image below from the NRC) has a split personality with the safety review and the environmental review running on parallel tracks. Public interventions from NIMBY and anti-nuclear green groups can derail the process at any stage and this comes along with the agency’s strict regulatory requirements. No pressure. Right? On top all this the applicant pays for the time of NRC engineers at a professional staff hour rate of just under $300/hr.
Congress has directed the agency to streamline its byzantine process but the community of advanced reactor developers are unsure whether it can do so and in time to make a difference for their planned efforts to go to market.
Yet, Oklo is confident this time the firm will prevail. In a press statement the firm said “the LPP presents pre-licensing interactions that will help the NRC and Oklo achieve an efficient and effective review process, including items necessary for advanced fission designs. An efficient and effective license application review schedule with the NRC will help unlock the commercialization of American innovation in advanced fission technologies to accelerate America’s ability to deploy clean energy technologies while ensuring energy safety and security.”
“Oklo’s reactor design has excellent safety characteristics and robust performance features. We are working to present these features in a manner similar to what the NRC is used to from licensing Light Water Reactors,” said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo.
But last January the NRC said that Oklo didn’t answer the agency’s questions to its satisfaction. NRC Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Andrea Veil said at the time, “Oklo’s application continues to contain significant information gaps in its description of Aurora’s potential accidents as well as its classification of safety systems and components. “These gaps prevent further review activities.”
Since then Oklo has taken some lessons learned from that setback.
“The experience and familiarity Oklo has with the NRC staff from our history of licensing engagement and our intentional and focused licensing interactions will help prepare for effective application reviews,” said Ross Moore, Oklo’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.
Oklo said in its press statement that its submission of the Licensing Project Plan “represents an important step towards submitting future applications and setting the stage for effective and efficient application reviews, which directly influences the country’s and the world’s ability to deploy clean energy technologies.”
Note the plan contains proprietary information
and the firm has asked the NRC to withhold its contents from public disclosure.
Oklo isn’t the only firm developing an advanced small modular reactor. Four other firms are also engaged in pre-licensing work. See table below. Oklo’s experience with the NRC may be seen by them that the agency is a tough regulatory task master. Doubling down on getting the details right is the order of the day.
About Oklo Inc.
(Oklo) is a California-based company developing advanced fission power plants to provide emission-free, reliable, and affordable energy. Oklo received a Site Use Permit from the U.S Department of Energy to build its first of a kind unit at the Idaho National Laboratory. The proposed Aurora design would use heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a power conversion system.
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SaskPower Chooses Two SMR Sites to Build on in 2030s
(NucNet) Canadian electric utility SaskPower has chosen two sites in Saskatchewan for the potential construction of a small, modular nuclear reactor. If approved, a first reactor could be operational by 2035.
The company said one site is the Estevan area – specifically, two sites around Boundary Dam and Rafferty Dam, located about 300 miles southeast of Saskatoon and another around the Grant Devine Dam. Estevan is a city about 16 km north of the Canada-US border.
The other area under consideration is near Elbow, a village about 85 miles due south of the Saskatchewan provincial capital of Saskatoon, around Lake Diefenbaker, from Gardiner Dam to the Diefenbaker Dam.
The two candidate areas needed to meet certain criteria, including proximity to a water source, existing power transmission and transportation infrastructure.
SaskPower said the final decision to selected a locale will take place in 2023, with a specific site to be chosen by 2024. However, the decision on whether to use SMR technology as part of the province’s power generation mix will not be made until 2029. If it is approved, the SMR could be operational by 2035.
SaskPower said it could build one or several reactors on the chosen site. It has estimated an SMR would cost CAD5B ($3.6Bn €3.7B). This cost estimate suggests that the project would be composed of several SMRs.
Using a hypothetical benchmark of $5,000/Kw, the power station could produce approximately 700 MWe. Actual costs in the early 2030s will depend on the design, component and construction costs at that time, and what it will cost to improve the regional grid to deliver electricity to customers and to sustain a large construction workforce at remote locations in the vast Canadian province.
Canada Can Become ‘World Leader’ In Nuclear Sector
In March 2022, Four provincial governments – Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta – said they would push ahead with a plan to develop nuclear power in Canada with calls for the federal government to back ambitious proposals for SMRs and a new class of Generation IV micro-SMR for remote communities and mines.
The provinces called for a grid-scale SMR project of 300 MWe constructed at the Darlington nuclear site in Ontario by 2028 with subsequent units to follow in Saskatchewan.
Last year OPG chose GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy as its technology partner on a new SMR planned for Darlington, with the first grid-scale BWRX-300 plant scheduled to be completed by 2028.
Provinces Have Ambitious Plans For Nuclear
The four provinces said they want to see advanced SMRs developed in New Brunswick and a new class of micro-SMR designed primarily to replace the use of diesel in remote communities and mines. A 5-MW gas-cooled demonstration project is under way at Chalk River, Ontario, with plans to be in service by 2026. Of the 13 SMRs in vendor design review at the CNSC, nine are advanced designs.
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Czech Republic Targets Temelin Site for 1st SMR by 2032
A small modular reactor (SMR) could be built in the Czech Republic at the Temelín nuclear power plant as early as 2032, Daniel Beneš, the Director of the CEZ power group has said after signing a contract for the establishment of the South Bohemia Nuclear Park. The joint company South Bohemia Nuclear Park aims to facilitate construction of the first pilot project at Temelín.
South Bohemian Governor Martin Kuba, addressing an international conference, said: “We realize that nuclear energy is something that we fundamentally need in the republic. “Czech industry is not only driven by renewable sources, we are not Norway, which has unlimited water capacities and produces 95% of its energy with clean hydropower plants.”
This project has the support of the government, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said. “Due to supply cuts, we are facing an unprecedented increase in the price of electricity and gas, a situation that threatens us and with which we must deal quickly, and that includes SMRs,” he said.
Beneš emphasised that Temelin is the best possible place for the pilot project. “At the same time, preparation for the construction of two new standard units continues. We are also working on the project of a new nuclear unit at the Dukovany NPP, where we expect offers by the end of November.
These buildings are not in competition with the small modular reactors we are talking about.” He added that SMRs are complementary technologies and are more suitable for a range of different locations. “Everything is based on the energy mix, the Czech energy mix largely relies on nuclear energy.”
In the last year, the CEZ Group signed memorandums of cooperation with NuScale, GE Hitachi, Rolls Royce, EDF, KHNP and Holtec.
“Given the current situation, we are accelerating this project. We see that it will be necessary to replace a number of coal-fired power plants and heating plants, while maintaining the maximum degree of self-sufficiency,” said Tomáš Pleskac, member of the CEZ board of directors and director of the nuclear energy division. “SMRs are a safe and very efficient option from this point of view. ”
The South Bohemian Nuclear Park is a joint project of all parties involved, covering research, development, communication and preparation of the building itself. As yet no investors for the project have come forward one of the reasons being there is no cost estimate for the project.
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China and Argentina Dispute Over Fuel Delays $8B Nuclear Deal
(Wire services) Months after an announcement that China will build and largely finance an $8 billion nuclear power plant outside Buenos Aires, the deal is hung up over Argentina’s demand that its engineers be permitted to manufacture the reactor fuel domestically. This demand follows an earlier request that China pay upfront for all of the costs of the new reactors with terms for a 15 year loan.
If it became the the first nation licensed to make fuel for China’s Hualong One reactor, it would be a huge advance for Argentina’s nuclear program. It would also be a signal that China is willing to license proprietary technology to trading partners.
China has virtually no interest in allowing Argentina to make fuel for the proposed Hualoing One 1100 MWe PWR. Given the plant’s likely 60-year operating life, if built, China expects to reap revenue from selling fuel for the plant to Argentina for the duration of its existence. Assuming fuel outages take place every 18 months, that comes to revenue for 40 scheduled events to provide new fuel that flows back to Chinese state owned enterprises.
Argentina doesn’t see it that way.
“We are trying to establish the best conditions to transfer the knowledge for making the fuel,” said Adriana Serquis, a physicist and president of Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission, in an interview with wire services.
“The commercial balance for us is very important. We are also hoping that the Chinese understand that a deal with us is also a win for them because that opens more possibilities.”
What she has in mind is that assuming China is successful in export of the Hualong One to other countries, that might position Argentina to sell fuel it fabricates domestically for export as well.
Licensing fuel technology could help China to sell more reactors overseas by creating more procurement options, Serquis said, adding, “We’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in Europe.”
The Argentine Council on Foreign Relations, a private research group, listed nuclear fuel-manufacturing capacity as the top strategic priority for the country’s nuclear program.
“Technological innovation aimed at the development of nuclear reactors, accelerators and the nuclear fuel cycle” including “the development and production of nuclear fuels,” is critical, says a Council report published late last year.
Serquis said that while Argentina confronts the financing difficulties faced by poor countries, its nuclear-science advances over 70 years often surpass those of richer economies. Communicating Argentina’s capabilities has been one of the biggest challenges in negotiations with China.
“We are not claiming to be in an equal position,” Serquis said. “We are a small economy dealing with one of the world’s biggest. Still, they don’t have to teach us the basics.”
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Third Barakah Nuclear Reactor Starts Up
(WNN) The 1400 MWe unit is now producing heat from nuclear fission, and will be connected to the UAE’s electricity grid in the coming weeks, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) said. Two units at the site, in the Al Dhafra Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, are already in commercial operation.
Fuel loading began at Barakah 3 in June after the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) approved the unit’s operating license, and has progressed through a comprehensive testing program under FANR oversight. It will now be connected to the grid and undergo the Power Ascension Testing (PAT) process. This means that its operators will gradually increase the unit’s power, with constant monitoring and testing, until maximum electricity production is reached.
FANR has carried out regular inspections throughout the fuel loading and the testing processes leading up to first criticality, and confirmed that Nawah Energy Company – a joint nuclear operations and maintenance subsidiary of ENEC and reactor vendor Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) – has met all regulatory requirements to initiate this phase. The regulator said it is continuously verifying the emergency preparedness and response system as well as monitoring the environment through independent monitoring stations around the nuclear power plant and its environmental laboratory.
“We have reached another major milestone in the delivery of the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program today, as we move forwards with the provision of strategically significant clean energy for the UAE,” ENEC CEO and Managing Director Mohamed Al Hammadi said.
Construction of the four Korean-designed APR-1400 units at Barakah began in 2012, with work on unit 3 starting in 2014. Units 1 and 2, which began commercial operation in April 2021 and March of this year, respectively, are now supplying 2800 MW to the UAE’s grid and unit 4 is in the final stages of commissioning prior to construction completion.
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