- Westinghouse Files for Vendor Design Review of eVinci Mini Reactor with CNSC
- USAF Issues RFP for Micro Reactor at Alaskan AFB
- MoltexFLEX Launches Flexible Molten Salt Reactor
- Mitsubishi Heavy to Develop New 1200 MWe PWR
- Saudi Arabia Begins Process to Issue License to Build Its First Nuclear Power Plant
- Rosatom Ships First Fuel for China’s CFR-600
Westinghouse Files for Vendor Design Review with CNSC
Since 2018 Westinghouse has been informing the nuclear energy industry of its plans to design and offer for sale a 1-5 MWe microreactor which is calls the ‘eVinci’. According to the company’s website, the eVinci micro-reactor design is transportable, designed for government usage allows for mobile operations utilizing standard military transportation vehicles and containers.
This past week the firm finally gave the go ahead for Vendor Design Review (Phases 1 & 2 combined) with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The firm first contacted CNSC in 2018 but took no action until last September (2022). The updated for the firm with CNSC is aided by a grant from the Canadian Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry for CAD27.2 million (USD21.5 million) to support further development and progress towards licensing of its eVinci micro reactor.
In an email statement at the time of the funding award (March 2022), a ministry spokesperson said that the investment will support funding for the development and eventual licensing of the eVinci micro-reactor. Details concerning specific milestones / deliverables were not released by the ministry. The spokesman said the grant was made because smaller size of the reactor design will result in a more accessible, widespread, and transportable nuclear source of energy with additional security and regulations to ensure its safety.
Relative to progress in the US at the NRC, the firm filed a “regulatory engagement plan” in December 2021. A review of documents in NRC’s ADAMS public online library on 10/01/22 indicates that Westinghouse has submitted to the NRC ongoing pre-licensing work products in areas such as fuel qualification and testing. Additional examples include Emergency Planning Zone Sizing Methodology and Heat Pipe Design, Qualification and Testing. However, as is the usual case for new reactor technologies, the substance of these white papers and technical documents is restricted from public access due to the proprietary nature of the information.
The IAEA in a publication on small modular reactors released this technical information (table below) on the eVinci reactor. As this information is about two years old, the parameters published by the IAEA may have changed since then.
CNSC Service Agreement for Vendor Design Review
According to a brief press statement from Westinghouse, the firm has signed a a “service agreement” with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to bring its eVinci microreactor closer to commercialization. The agreement initiates a Vendor Design Review (VDR) which is a pre-licensing technical assessment of the eVinci microreactor design. Westinghouse will execute both Phases 1 and 2 of the VDR as a combined program, signaling the eVinci microreactor’s design and technology maturity.
“Our state-of-the-art eVinci microreactor technology will unlock additional potential in remote communities and decentralized industrial sites,” said David Durham, President Energy Systems at Westinghouse.
In a reference to the generous funding the firm received from the Canadian government, Durham said, “Westinghouse’s nuclear battery technology can safely provide heat and power for more than eight years of continuous operations. We look forward to applying this technology across the country while creating local jobs and advancing Canada’s energy security and net zero goals.”
Not in Project Pele
In the U.S. Westinghouse suffered a setback in its promotion of the technology for military tactical readiness power. The eVinci microreactor was not selected in September 2021 for round two of the high profile Project Pele which is a plan to deploy micro reactors at military sites worldwide. The first of a kind (FOAK) unit will be built by BWXT for $300 million at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2024. It will use TRISO fuel enriched to between 5% and 19% U235.
The firm declined to respond to an inquiry asking that absent the DOD contract, what are the prospects for the eVinci design going forward for other DOD or related commercial applications in the US?
It’s possible progress on the regulatory front in Canada and the US may improve the commercial outlook for the mini reactor design. However, Westinghouse has plenty of competition from other developers of advanced small and mini reactors. According to information on the CNSC VDR site, seven other firms are in various stages of VDR phase 1 or phase 2 of the process which is a precursor to submitting an application for a license to built an advanced nuclear reactor in Canada. Note that the status information on the web site is not current.
What’s Happening with the Planned Sale of the Firm?
The future of the advanced micro reactor faces one other uncertainty because Brookfield, the Canadian private equity firm that bought the firm from Toshiba in a fire sale transaction, now wants to sell it. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette last May, Brookfield Business Partners is seeking to sell all of its interest Westinghouse Electric Company just four years after buying it out of bankruptcy. (Brookfield profile) (institutional shareholders).
This is the second time Brookfield has put Westinghouse on the market. Brookfield told the newspaper they didn’t get enough investor interest to sell last year. Brookfield says now that the now there is an energy crisis in Europe, due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, there is revived interest in nuclear energy. According to public filings cited by the newspaper, Brookfield Business Partners lists its investment in Westinghouse at $405 million.
So far since the announcement of putting the firm on the auction block last Spring, neither Brookfield nor Westinghouse has said anything about a potential buyer. Last June Westinghouse declined to respond to an inquiry as to how the potential sale of the firm would affect its new technology efforts like the eVinci reactor.
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USAF Issues RFP for Micro Reactor at Alaskan AFB
The Department of the Air Force, in partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, has released a request for proposal for the Eielson Air Force Base Micro-Reactor Pilot Program. The air force installation is located 24 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.
The microreactor pilot program began in response to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to build and operate a microreactor by the end of 2027. The microreactor will be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but commercially owned and operated.
The USAF said in a press statement that the action is an important first step toward developing the next-generation energy technology needed for energy resilience at Eielson Air Force Base and to inform future initiatives to power national security infrastructure.
“The release of the RFP for the Eielson AFB micro-reactor is a critical next step in furthering the development and deployment of reliable and clean energy technology at Department of the Air Force installations,” said Ms. Nancy Balkus, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure.
“This program is extremely important to mission assurance and sustainment in the face of climate change and continued national defense threats, and demonstrates the department’s commitment to ensuring our installations have a safe, reliable supply of energy, no matter their location.”
In its press statement the USAF said that micro-reactors are small nuclear reactors that can produce clean energy and are equipped with built-in safety features that self-adjust to changing conditions and demands to prevent overheating. The technology’s ability to operate independently from the commercial grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions make micro-reactors a promising power source for remote domestic military installations critical to the national security infrastructure.
The Eielson microreactor will be stationary, but mobile microreactors are also being developed. A May 2019 study concluded that mobile microreactors can support armed forces deployment and meet power demands in developed areas such as Europe and “immature theatres” of conflict in lesser developed areas.
The study said a microreactor could deliver one to 10 MW or so of electrical power for years without refueling, in a size small enough to be transported by road and air.
In conjunction with the release, the DAF is hosting a pre-proposal conference and site visit at Eielson Air Force Base on October 12th. Interested parties intending to submit a proposal may attend the site visit, which will provide prospective offerors with information to prepare proposals. Results of the pre-proposal conference will be documented and made available on the SAM.gov website. For more information about this project, check out the Fact sheet and Q&A.
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MoltexFLEX Launches Flexible Molten Salt Reactor
(NucNet) UK-based MoltexFLEX has unveiled its FLEX molten salt reactor, described as an advanced lower-cost nuclear technology and an “ideal complement” to wind and solar power that can protect generations of consumers from rising energy bills without resorting to fossil fuels.
The MoltexFLEX team, based in Warrington, northeast England, has developed the nuclear reactor which uses molten salt in an unprecedented way. As it has no moving parts, the FLEX reactor is simple in both design and operation, MoltexFLEX said. The company plans to have its first reactor operational by 2029. One possible site is at a current operating nuclear utility in New Brunswick province in Canada.
The company, a subsidiary of Canada-based Moltex Energy, said the advanced nuclear technology has the flexibility of gas-fired power stations, but it generates electricity at a lower cost, and without carbon emissions.
The reactor uses a patented system with two molten salts: one acting as a fuel, the other circulating as a coolant. This allows the reactor’s heat to be extracted through natural convection, without the need for pumps. The 750°C heat produced by the reactor could also be used for water desalination and more efficient hydrogen production. Roughly the size of a two-storied house, each reactor has the potential to power 40,000 homes.
Construction Would Take Just 24 Months
According to Moltex, the reactor can respond to changes in energy demand, automatically entering an idle state or returning rapidly to full power. Additionally, it would take just 24 months to build a 500 MWe power plant, the company said.
According to the company, the cost of electricity generated by the FLEX reactor will be comparable to that of wind at £40 (€45, $44) per MWh.
“We recognized the need for an energy supply that can support renewables when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. In the FLEX reactor, we have a solution for consumers and countries alike,” said MoltexFLEX chief executive officer David Landon.
Due to its simplicity, the FLEX reactor does not require expansive steel and concrete structures, greatly reducing the operational and maintenance costs. Once online, it can be operated with the same skills and equipment used in a fossil fuel plant, and can last 60 years with only two scheduled breaks over that lifetime to refuel, MoltexFLEX said.
“The FLEX reactor provides the safety net of affordable domestic energy, but is versatile enough for applications ranging from decarbonizing heavy industry to powering cargo ships.”
World Nuclear News reported that in May 2021, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission completed the first phase of the pre-licensing vendor design review for Moltex Energy’s 300 MWe Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner (SSR-W 300) small modular reactor. The SSR-W is a molten salt reactor that uses nuclear waste as fuel. The company aims to deploy its first such reactor at the Point Lepreau site in New Brunswick by the early 2030s.
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Mitsubishi Heavy to Develop New 1200 MWe PWR
(The Asahi Shimbun) Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and four major Japanese power utilities will work together to develop a next-generation nuclear reactor that will go online in the 2030s.
The announcement comes as the central government is reversing its course from its cautious nuclear energy policies following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has laid out an ambitious plan to restart nine existing reactors by winter 2023 and to restart construction of several partially built reactors. Separately, he has plans to expand work on HTGR type designs.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to develop an advanced light water reactor, an improved version of conventional pressurized water reactors. It will do so jointly with Kansai Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co. It will be one of the next-generation light water reactors.
The new reactor is targeted to generate 1200 MWe of electricity. In addition, the SRZ-1200 design is intended to enhance operational flexibility, which will effectively allow for improved electrical power delivery relative to variable electric power sources, such as renewables.
“The ability to adapt the SRZ-1200 for hydrogen production will also be studied to ensure that all potential uses of energy generated from this plant are efficiently and proactively applied for all of societal needs,” MHI said.
It noted that the name of the reactor design is derived from ‘S’ for supreme safety and sustainability, ‘R’ for resilience and ‘Z’ for zero-carbon emissions.
The design is new and is not related to a previous joint effort with France’s Areva a decade ago to develop an 1100 MWe PWR – code named ‘Atmea’. A proposal to build four of the new PWRs at the Sinop site on Turkey’s Black Sea coast was never funded due to cost and schedule issues associated with a first of a kind unit and no other reactors using this design were ever built.
The current effort has some major decisions ahead. MHI not decided which utility will build the planned reactor and where it will be built because of difficulties finding a new construction site amid a strong public distrust toward nuclear reactors. In one province, an effort to restart two of seven shut down BWRs has been repeatedly thwarted by local opposition driven in part by TEPCO’s mis-management and security issues flagged by Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority.
One potential candidate site for the MHI unit is KEPCO’s Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, according to a source. The utility is decommissioning the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, while more than 40 years have passed since the No. 3 reactor first went online.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has not disclosed the cost to build the new reactor, either. One estimate cited by the Japanese news media indicates the construction of a new nuclear reactor will require 1 trillion yen ($6.91 billion. The firm has not said whether it would also position the new design for export.
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Saudi Arabia Begins Process to Issue License to Build Its First Nuclear Power Plant
- Riyadh has already begun effort to choose reactor vendor
(NucNet) Saudi Arabia has begun the process to issue a license to build a first commercial nuclear power station, the Middle East kingdom’s energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud said. The license will be for a PWR type reactor using fuel enriched to less than 5% U235.
Al Saud, in a speech at the International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna, said that “the site will be finalized after completion of the technical specifications documents, which were drafted through an international competition”.
In June, Saudi Arabia began the process of choosing a vendor for the construction of the oil-rich kingdom’s first commercial nuclear power station with bids likely to come from South Korea, France, China and Russia.
Riyadh wants to build two 1,400 MW nuclear power plants, a down-sized effort from an ambitious goal set in 2014 to build 16 units of about 1,000 MW each. At $5,000/kW, for benchmarking purposes, the cost of the two reactors would be $7bn (€7.2bn) each.
It is not clear where the proposed plants would be built. Saudi Arabia has considered three separate sites and as a practical matter it would be economically and logistically efficient to build both reactors at the same location.
Saudi Arabia does not have any commercial nuclear plants, nor fuel cycle facilities, but has expressed ambitions to build around 17 GW of nuclear energy after 2040. Nuclear power is expected to make Saudi Arabia independent of oil and diversify the energy mix.
Fuel for the Plants Could Come from Domestic Uranium Deposits
Earlier in 2022 Saudi Arabia updated its plans to mine its extensive domestic uranium deposits. Also, the New York Times reported that KSA will acquire uranium mill technology from China to convert uranium ore into yellowcake. from China.
According to a Reuters wire service report, Prince Abdulaziz said that Saudi Arabia would be mining and developing its uranium resources. The actual extent of the commercially viable ore remains uncertain but the intent to pursue the mining venture appears to be quite certain.
“We do have a huge amount of uranium resource, which we would like to exploit and we will be doing it in the most transparent way,” Prince Abdulaziz told the Future Minerals Summit in Riyadh.
S&P Global/Platts reported on 1/12/22 that while there are no official figures published on Saudi uranium reserves, in 2020, a report by UK-based newspaper the Guardian, based on leaked internal documents, put the kingdom’s “inferred deposits” at an estimated 90,000 mt, which would be equivalent to around 1.4% of current global reserves if verified by subsequent efforts. The prospecting that reports the inferred deposits was carried out by geologists from Chinese state owned enterprises. Their report identified three major sites where potentially uranium could be mined.
RFP Released Last June
In April, Saudi Arabia established a national nuclear energy company to develop and operate nuclear facilities. Riyadh said the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company (SNEHC) will participate in nuclear projects locally and internationally.
Saudi Arabia kicked off the process to select a vendor for the two PWRs last June. The inquiry was sent to South Korea, France, China and Russia. The process of acquiring two reactors is a down sized effort from an ambitious goal set in 2014 to build 16 1000 MWe units.
In November of 2011, KA-CARE hired WorleyParsons to conduct site surveys to determine the best possible sites for development of the nuclear power generating stations. In September of 2013 three sites were identified as the primary options, given their proximity to coolant water sources, their position on the KSA’s electrical grid, and their location near electricity-intensive consumers, such as desalination plants. The identified locations are Jubail on the Gulf Coast and Rabuk and Jizan on the Red Sea.
Riyadh, the capitol is 264 miles west of Jubail the Persian Gulf and the two sites on the Red Sea are 450 miles to the east. Due to the lack of nearby sea water for desalination, it is unlikely that any site near the capitol would be chosen for the reactors.
Scenario for Timeline for Saudi Nuclear Build
A rough estimate is as follows. This is a simplified best case scenario. Saudi Arabia is serious about building at least two full size nuclear reactors. The IAEA has published a typical scenario for development of a new nuclear power plant (below) spanning 10-15 years on which these notes are based.
- By the end of 2023 contract awarded to build two 1400 MWe PWR type commercial nuclear reactors using low enriched fuel (U235 at less than 5%) Value of the contract is approximately $12-14 billion.
- By the end of 2026 complete all licensing and regulatory reviews and break ground for the first unit. Second unit breaks ground by the end of 2028.
- No later than 2032 first of two units ready to load fuel and commence operations to generate electricity for the grid and to support desalination of seawater
- No later than 2036 second unit ready to load fuel and commence operation
- No later than 2040 first load of spent nuclear fuel moved from wet to dry storage and/or returned to country of origin.
Key challenges: Almost Everything Will Be Imported Including the Workforce
- Recruit and sustain a workforce of at least 3,000-5,000 people over a 8-10 year period
- Manage nuclear safety regulatory compliance / quality assurance for construction, startup and operations;
- Execute effective project controls for schedules, costs, etc.
- Commit to long lead time procurement of major systems; reactor pressure vessels, steam generators, turbines; and, grid improvements to deliver electricity toc customers
- Acquire nuclear fuel for the reactors in compliance with international nonproliferation agreements.
- Construct and operate sea water desalination stations at coastal sites and delivery of potable water to customers.
Saudi Arabia, US Sign MoU on Cooperation in Nuclear Safety
Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Commission (NRRC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, related to the technical information and cooperation in the nuclear safety.
It was co-signed by CEO of the NRRC Dr. Khalid Al-Issa and Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Christopher Hanson.
The signing of the MoU came within the activities of the 66th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
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Rosatom Ships First Fuel for China’s CFR-600
(WNN contributed to this report) Rosatom’s TVEL fuel company said it will complete this year all shipments needed to cover the initial load of the reactor core and the first refueling of China’s CFR-600. The shipments will comes from Elemash Machine-building plant, Rosatom’s TVEL fuel company.
Construction of unit 1 of what is also known as the Xiapu fast reactor demonstration project began in 2017. It is part of China’s plan to achieve a closed nuclear fuel cycle. China National Nuclear Corporation announced in December 2020 that construction work had begun on a second unit at the plant.
The aim has been for the first unit to be grid connected around 2023. The reactors will be 1500 MWt, 600 MWe, with 41% thermal efficiency, using mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel with 100 GWd/t burn-up, and with two sodium coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later fuel will be metal with burn-up 100-120 GWd/t. Breeding ratio is about 1.1, design operational lifetime 40 years. The design has active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal.
After the launch of the first CFR-600 power unit, Xiapu NPP in China’s Fujian province will become the first nuclear power plant with a high-capacity fast reactor outside of Russia. The other two functioning installations are the BN-600 and BN-800 sodium-cooled reactors at Beloyarsk NPP in the Urals region of Russia.
Oleg Grigoriyev, Senior Vice President for Commerce and International Business at TVEL Fuel Company, said in a press statement on the company website that the Elemash plant’s CFR-600 fuel fabrication facility was launched in 2021 and late last year mock-ups of control and protection system assemblies for the CFR-600 were shipped to the customer for testing of the simulation reactor core.
“The project of fuel fabrication for CFR-600, lasting for already three years, has been a unique task for us in terms of complexity … TVEL has proved it is capable of solving outstanding tasks and being flexible for the customer’s requirements and we definitely see a great potential for the further development of our cooperation with the Chinese partners.”
About the CFR-600
The CFR-600 is a sodium-cooled pool-type fast-neutron nuclear reactor under construction in Xiapu County, Fujian province, China, on Changbiao Island. The coastal site is isolated from China’s mainland about 400 miles due south of Shanghai. Work began on building it in 2017. On the same site, the building of a second 600 MWe fast reactor CFR-600 was started in December 2020. (IAEA technical profile)
It is positioned as a civilian / commercial effort and is a GEN IV demonstration project operated by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) which is a commercial state owned enterprise. The project is also known as Xiapu fast reactor pilot project. The reactor will have an output of 1,500 MWth thermal power and 600 MWe electric power. A larger commercial-scale reactor, the CFR-1000, is also planned.
US nonproliferation experts have raised concerns about the reactor in that these plants will have more fuel generation than their actual usage. In other words, the question has been raised whether the plants will be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
One of the concerns that has also been highlighted is that China has stopped reporting to the IAEA on the quantities of plutonium produced by its civilian reactors. In a statement on May 19th to the Al Jazeera news service, Nickolas Roth, senior fellow and director of the Nuclear Security program at the think-tank the Stimson Center in Washington, DC, said, “Confidence-building measures like plutonium declarations to the IAEA are really important.”
“When countries don’t submit those declarations, particularly as they’re going down the path of producing more materials, that is a legitimate reason for concern.”
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