- DOE Rejects Funding for Holtec to Restart Palisades
- UK Govt Gives Green Light to Build Sizewell C Twin 1600 MW Reactors
- Nuclear Hydrogen ‘Can Help Build Economy of the Future’
- Westinghouse to Study UK Production of TRISO Nuclear Fuel
DOE Rejects Funding for Holtec to Restart Palisades
A first of a kind effort to reopen a nuclear power plant that had been closed by its utility owner/operator, and slated for decommissioning, will not go forward. The reason is that an application by Holtec to the Department of Energy (DOE) to fund a reversal of the closure of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan was not approved by the agency. The plant is an 805 MW PWR type reactor built by Combustion Engineering for a cost of $630M and commissioned in 1973.
The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in 1973. Image: US DOE
The plan was supported by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who promised state funding if DOE came through on its end. The decision, which is most likely based on the numerous problems the plant faced on a path to being reopened, is nevertheless a blow to President Biden’s plans to address climate change.
The Detroit News reported that anti-nuclear groups vigorously opposed the plan to restart the reactor. The newspaper published a claim by one group that “a melt down was averted” by DOE’s decision not to fund the restart of the Palisades reactors.
Holtec apparently took the DOE decision in stride. Patrick O’Brien, a spokesperson for Holtec, said in a statement to Reuters, “We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, restarting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry.”
While DOE did not comment on the decision, ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan research group, told the Reuters wire service that Palisades’ closure was “likely to be permanent.”
“Palisades was out of nuclear fuel, faced a control rod drive seal issue that needed to be fixed and likely needed a new company to operate it, as well as a buyer for the power it generates.”
Another issue is that Holtec isn’t a nuclear utility and needed to find one to operate the plant once it was on its way to a restart.
Even if DOE had come through with the money, relicensing the plant presented a major challenge to Holtec and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The agency public affairs office said in an email statement to this blog that the agency has never dealt with a plant that involves re-licensing a closed nuclear reactor. However, in 2016 the agency took a look at the possibility of restarting a closed reactor and solicited input from the industry to address the issue.
Background on the Plan to Restart the Plant
In May 2022 Holtec acquired the 800 MW nuclear power plant, built in 1973 and located on the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, to decommission it. The firm has made a business out of decommissioning nuclear power plants paid for by the assurances of each plants decommissioning fund.
The plant was closed due to its inability to compete in a merchant market with low priced natural gas. The plan to reopen the reactor was to ask DOE to fund the needed steps to restore the facility to a point where it could be relicensed from the initial phase of the Energy Department’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) program.
The CNC program has the objective to keep open nuclear plants in highly competitive electricity markets. In the past decade numerous reactors have closed due to their inability to meet the pricing of electricity from gas plants and subsidized renewable energy sources.
So far only one other utility has applied for funds under the CNC program. In California PG&E has asked for funding to keep the two nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon open until 2030. That application is still pending although a decision is expected from DOE before the end of the year. Even after getting DOE’s money, PG&E must still address numerous deferred maintenance issues and convince the NRC to address plant licensing issues in the utility’s favor.
Separately, California’s state legislature, fearing the looming threat of a major political backlash over blackouts, last September passed SB486 which provides a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open through the end of the decade.
Holtec has Other Cards to Play
Elsewhere, Holtec is decommissioning several other shuttered nuclear reactors. However, at the Oyster Creek site in New Jersey, Holtec has aired preliminary plans to build at first of a kind 160 MW PWR type small modular reactor.
Holtec owns the site which was a 619-MW GE BWR unit that began commercial operation in 1969 and was shut down in September 2018. The plant was hounded into early retirement 10 years earlier than as provided for in its NRC license by then NJ Governor Chris Christie. Holtec is also decommissioning the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts.
The advantage of locating the SMR at the Oyster Creek site is that is has a switchyard and ready made connection to the grid. Also, there are roads and local utilities already in place.
In December Holtec was awarded $116 million from the US Department of energy to complete research and development work on its SMR-160 SMR design.
Last March DOE approved Part I of Holtec International’s loan application for building small modular reactors (SMRs) and invited the company to apply for a federal loan to help build four SMR-160s and to expand the company’s manufacturing capacity to build the first wave of small modular nuclear reactors in large numbers.
The SMR-160 is a light-water based pressurized SMR, which generates 160 MWe (525 MWth). The cooling system relies on gravity as to operate the reactor and it has a completely passive safety systems.
Earlier this year, the SMR-160 completed Phase 1 of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) “Pre-Licensing Review of a Vendor’s Reactor Design.” Holtec is also submitting topical reports as part of the pre-licensing process at the NRC.
On 11/21/22 the Department of Energy announced that PGE, the owner and operator of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has received the first round of funding, $1.1 billion, from the Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) Program. Funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the $6 billion CNC program supports the continued operations of nuclear energy facilities. The funds will be used to keep the plant open through 2030.
See prior coverage on this blog Diablo Canyon is Saved For Now
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UK Gives Green Light to Build Sizewell C’s Twin 1600 MW Reactors
- UK Confirms £700 Million State Backing As Nuclear Project Gets Green Light
(NucNet) The UK has given the green light for new nuclear at Sizewell C in Suffolk, southeast England, with chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirming £700m (€799m, $824m) in support for what would be “the first state-backed nuclear power station for 30 years.”
Boris Johnson gave the project the green light in one of his last acts as prime minister but Hunt’s plans to cut spending had created uncertainty around the planned power plant’s future.
Hunt said contracts would be signed in “the coming weeks” with partners in the project including French state energy firm EDF, which is building Sizewell’s sister station at Hinkley Point C.
Sizewell C will have two France-supplied EPRs producing 1600 MW each of electricity and is expected to cost about £20 billion.
Doubts had been raised two weeks ago after reports emerged that the project could face the axe in the new UK government’s search for savings, forcing the Prime Minister’s office to deny that it was considering such a measure.
Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who took office last month, is the UK, told the BBC about the decision to fund the giant nuclear power plant, “There is only one way to stop ourselves being at the mercy of international gas prices: energy independence combined with energy efficiency.”
Hunt said “Britain is a global leader in renewable energy. We need to go further, with a major acceleration of home-grown technologies like offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, and, above all, nuclear.”
“This [project] will deliver new jobs, industries, and export opportunities and secure the clean, affordable energy we need to power our future economy and reach net zero by 2050. So I can today announce that the government will proceed with the new nuclear plant at Sizewell C.”
“Subject to final government approvals, the contracts for the initial investment will be signed with relevant parties, including EDF, in the coming weeks, it will create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and provide reliable, low-carbon, power to the equivalent of six million homes for over 50 years.”
“Our £700 million investment is the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years and represents the biggest step in our journey to energy independence.”
The cash was initially announced by Boris Johnson, who urged the UK to “go large” on nuclear in his final major policy speech as prime minister. Johnson said it would be “madness” not to build Sizewell C.
Julia Pyke, Sizewell C financial director at EDF, told a UK parliament hearing on nuclear energy that the company is planning to take a final investment decision on the construction of Sizewell within 12 to 18 months.
‘Huge Moment’ For Energy Security
The government has already given planning consent for the project and in January announced £100 million of funding to support Sizewell C’s development, with the move aimed to attract further financing from private investors.
Sizewell C is expected to be funded, at least in part, under a new regulated asset base (RAB) model which will give nuclear projects the financial support they need and attract private investment.
EDF worked with China’s CGN on the first phase of the project. The Chinese state owned enterprise was expected to take a 20% equity stake in the project. However, PM Boris Johnson unceremoniously booted CGN off the project citing “security issues.”
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK-based Nuclear Industry Association, called the government’s decision to give a green light to Sizewell C “a huge moment for Sizewell C, for UK energy security and for the future of nuclear in Britain.”
He said Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s most important green infrastructure projects ever, and critical to the government’s commitment to strengthen energy independence, cut gas use and bring down bills.
“The UK now needs to urgently get on with building new nuclear plants alongside renewables to meet the targets set out in the Energy Security Strategy, and we look forward to Sizewell C contracts being signed in the next few weeks.
“This announcement also paves the way for the development of a pipeline of new nuclear projects, both large and small modular reactors, to deliver clean, reliable power for the British people.”
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Nuclear Hydrogen ‘Can Help Build Economy of the Future’
- DOE official tells Cop27 challenges remain with storage and transportation
(NucNet) Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for nuclear at the US Department of Energy, told a panel discussion at the United Nations Cop27 climate conference in Egypt future nuclear reactors can help produce hydrogen to insure the stability of electric grids and decarbonizes industries such as transport and agriculture.
Huff told a #Atoms4Climate event organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency that nuclear power can play a role in the production of clean hydrogen because of its potential to generate large amounts of heat in addition to electricity.
Most electricity generating stations primarily produce heat, which is converted to steam to power electric turbines. A nuclear reactor’s output is typically measured in MW electric (MWe), but reactors also produce large amounts of heat which is processed into steam, and that heat output is measured in MW thermal (MWt).
“The conversation from thermal to electric power is very inefficient”, she said. “So, let’s use nuclear for what it is good at.”
According to Huff, thermochemical water splitting, a method which uses a high heat source to generate hydrogen, is more efficient than the alternative method of using low-temperature electrolysis systems. Nuclear power can therefore harness some of the highest efficiency hydrogen production methods today.
Advanced Reactors And Hydrogen Hubs
Some advanced nuclear reactors under development can contribute to hydrogen generation. Huff gave the example of X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) design which can produce heat of up to 800 degrees C. The reactor is being developed and is expected to be built at a site in Richland, WA, under a cost shared funding effort through DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
The DOE has an $8 billion (€7.8bn) initiative to demonstrate six to 10 regional hydrogen hubs to couple consumers and producers of hydrogen, including nuclear producers of hydrogen, in a single location depending on the needs of the local industrial or agricultural sectors.
“If these hydrogen goals are achieved and we are successful with the hydrogen hubs, I really see a future in which a hydrogen economy underpins the stability of our electric grid in the US, decarbonizes our transportation, agricultural, and transportation systems, and deeply leverages the highest-temperature advanced reactors and existing light-water reactors,” Huff said.
She said the DOE is supporting four small nuclear power and hydrogen demonstration projects at four nuclear stations which are supposed to pave the way for the development of larger “hydrogen hubs”.
According to DOE the four projects include:
Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station (Oswego, NY): DOE is supporting the construction and installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Nine Mile Point NPP. The project will be the first nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production facility in the US and will use the hydrogen to help cool the plant. Plant owner Constellation plans to begin producing hydrogen before the end of the year.
Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station (Oak Harbor, OH): Energy Harbor is working to demonstrate a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station. The goal is to prove the technical feasibility and economic benefits of clean hydrogen production, which could facilitate future opportunities for large-scale commercialization. The single unit reactor is expected to produce clean hydrogen by 2023. Potential uses could be sold for local manufacturing and transportation services, including fuel for a local bus fleet.
Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant (Red Wing, MN): Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy are working on a first-of-a-kind project to demonstrate high-temperature electrolysis at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant. The data collected from this demonstration will be used to scale up this process. Hydrogen production is expected to begin in early 2024.
Palo Verde Generating Station (Tonopah, AZ): DOE is negotiating an award with Arizona Public Service (APS) and PNW Hydrogen to demonstrate another low-temperature electrolysis system at the Palo Verde Generating Station. The hydrogen will be used to produce electricity during times of high demand or to make chemicals and other fuels. The project could start producing hydrogen in 2024, pending the completion of award negotiations.
Additional funding, through Inflation Reduction Act, also includes support for clean hydrogen production via tax credits that will award up to $3/kg for low carbon hydrogen. All of this work supports DOE’s Hydrogen Shot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in one decade.
Huff said, “Reaching this cost reduction goal would open new markets for hydrogen, in addition to creating more clean energy jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making America a more competitive actor in the global clean energy market.”
She said nuclear is suited to heat production and called this a “special niche” for which other clean energy systems might not be the best fit. Hydrogen and nuclear power can be used to balance the variability of renewable energy sources.
She warned that challenges remain related to storage and transportation mainly due to the embrittlement of steel, or extreme corrosion caused by the absorption of hydrogen atoms or molecules by metals. Also, because hydrogen gas is a very small molecule, it can easily leak from containment systems, a problem NASA has dealt with for decades using liquid hydrogen as a fuel for its rockets.
A Role For Desalination?
Another concern is the availability of large amounts of water to be used in the water splitting process to produce hydrogen – an issue where ocean water desalination using nuclear power could be a solution.
In a recent report on the role of nuclear power in the hydrogen economy, the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency said the cost of hydrogen from new nuclear reactors is similar to the cost of hydrogen from variable renewables – solar and wind – in most places around the world.
According to Michel Berthelemy, a nuclear energy analyst at the NEA, hydrogen can be produced at a competitive cost, also levering existing nuclear power and its long-term operation.
He said, that the cost of hydrogen could be double or triple in cases where it will need to be transported over large distances.
Combining momentum in the development of advanced reactors with momentum for industrial hydrogen deployment will be essential for progress this decade and into the next, Berthelemy told the panel.
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Westinghouse to Study UK Production of TRISO Nuclear Fuel
(WNN) Westinghouse has been awarded a grant by the UK government to complete a Pre-Front End Engineering Design study, in collaboration with Urenco, for the production of TRISO fuels at its Springfields facility in Preston, Lancashire.
The grant, through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will consider a secure and reliable supply of advanced TRISO – tristructural isotropic – fuels to support a range of potential high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technologies under development. Westinghouse will also receive support on this study from TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy of the USA. The value of the grant was not disclosed.
“This award is an important step in creating commercial-scale advanced fuel production in the UK at our Springfields facility for the reactors of tomorrow,” said Westinghouse President and CEO Patrick Fragman.
Earlier this month, TRISO-X broke ground for North America’s first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility – or TF3 – is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025. It will initially produce 8 tonnes of fuel per year, supporting about 16 advanced reactors, and is envisaged to increase to 16 tonnes per year by the early 2030s.
Last September the UK government announced GBP3.3 million (USD3.8 million) in funding to support the development of advanced nuclear technology. The funding through the Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development and Demonstration program – part of the GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund – will support the development of innovative nuclear technology in the UK, such as HTGRs. It aims to demonstrate HTGR technology by the early 2030s.
Currently, the UK does not have an effort underway to develop an HTGR reactors which suggests that it could import such a design from the US, Canadian, or other developer of this type of reactors.
Under that funding, Springfields Fuels Ltd is receiving GBP243,311 for a project, in collaboration with Urenco, to determine the most effective route for the secure and reliable supply of coated particle fuel (CPF) to support the range of potential HTGR technologies which may come forward in the UK.
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