- X-Energy Inks SMR Deal with DOW
- Saving Nuclear Reactors One at a Time; Holtec, Diablo Canyon
- Urenco to Supply Ultra Safe Nuclear with Enriched Uranium
- Lightbridge Completes Fuel Casting Project at PNNL
- Silex Raises $81M to Advance Laser Enrichment of Nuclear Fuel
- NuScale / Utah Reactor Projects Gets Boost
X-Energy Inks SMR Deal with DOW
A key nuclear reactor project in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) originally slated for a site in eastern Washington is headed for a new home.
X-Energy, which will receive $1.2 billion in cost shared funding from DOE over the life of the ARDP effort, announced this week that it has signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with DOW (NYSE: DOW) to build its first grid-scale advanced nuclear reactor at a DOW industrial site on the Gulf coast. The company has multiple manufacturing sites along the gulf coast in Louisiana and Texas. A site is expected to be chosen by the end of this year.
Dow operates manufacturing sites in 31 countries and employs approximately 37,800 people. Dow delivered sales of approximately $57 billion in 2022. The company is a financial giant with a market capitalization of $41.1 billion. The stock has been trading at $59/share since the start of 2023.
The selection of X-Energy for process heat and electricity is a major step toward decarbonization of its global operations. The commitment by the firm, and its execution, will be closely watched for competitive reasons by every other major manufacturer which has multiple sites that require a reliable large supply of process heat and electricity. DOW has a history of thinking long term about its capital requirements, and getting its plants off fossil fuels to run their operations just got a major emphasis with this deal.
DOW intends to work with X-energy to install their Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) plant at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites, providing the site with safe, reliable, low-carbon power and steam within this decade.
X-energy is a developer of an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) and proprietary TRISO fuel for carbon-free and reliable baseload power production. Unlike existing light water and other small modular reactors, X-energy’s HTGR technology can also support broad industrial use applications through its high-temperature heat and steam output that can be integrated into and address the needs of both large and regional electricity and/or industrial manufacturing systems.
The JDA includes up to $50 million in engineering work, up to half of which is eligible to be funded through ARDP, and the other half by Dow. The JDA work scope also includes the preparation and submission of a Construction Permit application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). A separate licensing process will need to be completed in order for the reactors to operate.
The cost of licensing and building the four reactors planned for the project will far exceed the initial commitment of funds by the JDA. Last December X-Energy announced that it was going public to raise funds from investors. It isn’t known whether DOW plans to eventually take an equity position in the firm.
For now the two companies intend to perform ARDP-funded work under the JDA. Additionally, the companies have agreed to develop a framework to jointly license and utilize the technology to enable other industrial customers to effectively deploy the Xe-100 reactor.
X-energy was selected by DOE in 2020 to receive up to $1.2 billion under the ARDP in federal cost-shared funding to develop, license, build, and demonstrate an operational advanced reactor and fuel fabrication facility by the end of the decade. Since that award, X-energy has completed the engineering and basic design of the nuclear reactor, advanced development of a fuel fabrication facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and is preparing to submit an application for a license to the NRC.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates the commercial versatility of the Xe-100 and is an important milestone for the future of advanced nuclear and carbon-free energy around the world. X-energy’s collaboration with Dow brings added significance because of the immense opportunity to further reduce emissions in the energy-intensive industrial sector,” said X-energy CEO J. Clay Sell.
Sell added he anticipates the first X-energy project built on a Dow site could be in operation by 2029.
Why X-Energy Changed Horses
The Seattle Times reported that X-energy initially selected Washington state as the site of its first project inking partnerships in 2021 with the Grant Public Utility District (PUD) and Energy Northwest, operator of the Columbia Generating Station, which is the state’s only commercial nuclear power plant.
The newspaper revealed that X-energy has been assessing how it would meet an ambitious Energy Department timeline as part of the ARDP effort that calls for bringing the project on line by 2028. A determining factor in the switch to DOW, and a gulf coast sitem is that Grant County, WA, had delayed taking an ownership stake in the project and also delayed a decision on selecting a site for the X-Energy plant. The company, frustrated by the lack of progress, eventually decided to look for other partners and sites.
“We needed clarity on the site, and clarity on the ownership stake,” Clay Sell, X-energy’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday. “Building a nuclear project, even with substantial government subsidies, it’s no small matter.
X-Energy Not Burning Its Bridges
Despite the announcement of the new partnership with DOW, X-Energy CEO Sell told the Seattle Times that X-energy retains partnerships with Energy Northwest and Grant County and still anticipates building its reactors in Washington. The difference is that now Grant County and Energy Northwest will be second, or third, but not the first customers to partner with the firm in deploying the company’s reactors.
Energy Northwest and Grant County officials say they still are hopeful of obtaining financing and moving forward developing new nuclear plants in Washington.
In a written statement to the Seattle Times, Bob Schuetz, Energy Northwest’s chief executive officer, said, “we remain committed to developing a small, modular reactor in Washington by the end this decade, and that the X-energy technology could be an ideal fit for our region.”
In what now appears to be a separate effort, Grant PUD is considering financing a next-generation nuclear power plant to help meet strong and growing demand for power from data centers and industry.
“We’ll learn from the lessons of this first deployment with DOW, so that we may quickly follow with our Xe-100 plant in Grant County by 2032,” said the Kevin Nordt, PUD’s chief resource officer said in a press statement.
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Saving Nuclear Reactors One at a Time
- DOE Offers $1.2 billion for Continued Operation of “at risk” and shut down nuclear plants
- Holtec re-submits its request for funding for Palisades to DOE
- NRC announces a license exemption for Diablo Canyon licenses
(NucNet contributed to this report) As part of a program to support nuclear power generation and the goal of zero-carbon electricity by 2035, the Biden administration last week offered funding of $1.2 billion to nuclear power utilities whose reactors are at risk of retiring soon or that ceased operations since November 2021.
The US Department of Energy released application guidance for the second award cycle of the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a $6 billion line item that is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to prevent the premature retirement of nuclear plants across the country.
In the first award cycle, nuclear power plants eligible for the funding were limited to owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that had announced intentions to retire within the four-year award period. The second round of funding makes funds available, for the first time, to reactors that ceased operations after November 2021. Applications are due to the agency by the end of May.
Holtec / Palisades – The announcement means Holtec International, the current owner of the Palisades nuclear power station in Michigan, is now eligible to apply for funding to restart the single reactor power station.
Palisades closed permanently in May 2022, nearly two weeks earlier than its planned date, after then-owner Entergy Corp discovered a coolant system leak. The plant has significant deferred maintenance. Even if it gets the funding, it still must navigate NRC’s expensive and complex licensing’s process to essentially resurrect the reactor from the dead. Additionally, it must find a customer who will buy power from the plant at an auction price that will make a profit for Holtec.
Diablo Canyon – Meanwhile, in California last November, DOE announced the conditional selection of the Diablo Canyon power station in California to receive the first round of funding from the program.
Units 1 and 2 at the two-unit Diablo Canyon were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024 and 2025, but the conditional award of credits valued at up to $1.1 billion creates a path forward for Diablo Canyon to remain open.
In September 2022, California legislators voted to extend the life of the state’s last nuclear power station by five years as protection against possible blackouts provided the federal government pays much of the cost. California lawmakers sided with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to loan Pacific Gas & Electric up to $1.4 billion and reverse plans to shutter the facility.
NRC Announces Diablo Canyon Exemption
In a related development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it has granted an exemption to Pacific Gas & Electric Company that would allow Diablo Canyon to continue operating while the agency considers its license renewal application.
After evaluating the company’s exemption request, the NRC staff determined that the exemption is authorized by law, will not present undue risk to the public health and safety, and is consistent with the common defense and security. In addition, the NRC staff determined;
“Diablo Canyon’s continued operation is in the public interest because of serious challenges to the reliability of California’s electricity grid. The agency’s statement added, “After evaluating the company’s exemption request, the NRC staff determined that the exemption is authorized by
law, will not present undue risk to the public health and safety, and is consistent with the common defense and security. In addition, the staff determined Diablo Canyon’s continued operation is in the public interest because of serious challenges to the reliability of California’s electricity grid.”
“The current operating licenses for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2, expire on Nov. 2, 2024, and Aug. 26, 2025, respectively. The exemption granted today will allow those licenses to remain in effect provided PG&E submits a sufficient license renewal application for the reactors by Dec. 31, 2023. The NRC will continue its normal inspection and oversight of the facility throughout the review to ensure continued safe operation. If granted, the license renewal would authorize continued operation for up to 20 years.”
Adam Stein, PhD, Director of Nuclear Energy Innovation, at the Breakthrough Institute, an energy related think tank,, commented in a social media post, “Diablo Canyon’s continued operation is in the public interest because of serious challenges to the reliability of California’s electricity grid and because it will help mitigate climate change impacts. This is a major change for the NRC that we have long identified as necessary. The NRC needs to consider the benefits and costs of nuclear energy in the public interest, not just exemptions, but as a fundamental part of decision-making and licensing like other regulators.”
PG&E said it will submit a license renewal application by the end of this year.
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Urenco to Supply Ultra Safe Nuclear with Enriched Uranium
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and Urenco USA (UUSA), operated by Louisiana Energy Services LLC, which is the only U.S. commercial producer supplying uranium enrichment services, announced an enrichment services supply agreement as part of the fuel supply program for USNC’s Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR).
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation will purchase enriched uranium product (EUP) from Urenco USA for use in the manufacture of Tri-structural Isotropic (TRISO) particles and Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel via USNC’s planned joint venture with Framatome in the United States.
The EUP will be produced and supplied by the Urenco USA uranium enrichment facility located in New Mexico. This purchase marks the first commercial supply of EUP for use in an advanced reactor anywhere in the world.
“We’ve been working hard to manage and de-risk the front end of our fuel cycle,” said Kurt Terrani, Executive Vice President at Ultra Safe Nuclear. “With others facing so much uncertainty regarding fuel supply, it is vital to have reliable commercial partners to source, transport, and deconvert our EUP, feeding our fuel factory operations.”
This first batch of EUP is slated for delivery to the USNC-Framatome fuel manufacturing joint venture in 2025, coinciding with the start of their TRISO and FCM fuel factory operations. This fuel production capacity will be used to fuel USNC’s MMR deployments with some be made available to the wider advanced reactor market.
The MMR Energy System is a fourth-generation nuclear energy system designed to deliver electricity and process heat to users. The MMR is being licensed in Canada and the U.S. and will be the first commercially available “nuclear battery.” MMR deployments are moving forward, including the projects at Chalk River which is on target for first power in 2026, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, targeted for first power the following year.
The company said , “this agreement strengthens USNC’s vertical integration across the value chain to maximize competitive advantage and reduce risk by securing sufficient quantities of EUP to support MMR active deployments.” Terms and details of the supply agreement were not disclosed.
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Lightbridge Completes Fuel Casting Project at PNNL
Lightbridge Corporation (Nasdaq: LTBR), an advanced nuclear fuel technology company, announced that it has successfully completed work under the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) voucher program to support the development of Lightbridge Fuel, in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
Working in collaboration with PNNL, the project scope was to demonstrate Lightbridge’s nuclear fuel casting process using depleted uranium, a key step in manufacturing Lightbridge Fuel. Several castings were performed throughout the project, and the cast ingots were analyzed.
The results of this work will help Lightbridge determine a final process suitable to produce fuel material coupons for the firm’s upcoming irradiation tests in the Advanced Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory.
Ali Zbib, PNNL nuclear industry program manager, commented, “One of our missions at PNNL is to support U.S. nuclear industry partners in advancing their technology. Working on this GAIN-funded project was an excellent opportunity to use national laboratory resources and expertise on these fuel development efforts for light water reactors.”
Seth Grae, President and CEO of Lightbridge, commented, “Completing the work under our second GAIN voucher advances our ability to develop, demonstrate, and optimize the manufacturing processes for Lightbridge Fuel.”
The PNNL report is titled; Casting and Characterization of U-50Zr – PDF file
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Silex Raises $81M to Advance Laser Enrichment of Nuclear Fuel
Silex Systems, an Australian company working on laser separation of chemical isotopes, says it has raised AUS$120 million (US$81 million) equity funding that should enable it to accelerate commercialization for the nuclear industry.
The firm, headquartered near Sydney at Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO), has been collaborating with US-based Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a joint venture involving Silex and uranium producer Cameco, for several years.
Silex says that the new funding will also help it further develop two other potential uses of the technology – separating different forms of silicon for quantum computing, and creating radioactive isotopes for nuclear medicine.
The firm also reported that it and GLE were currently focused on construction of full-scale laser and separator equipment to be deployed in GLE’s “test loop” facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a commercial-scale pilot demonstration expected as early as 2024.
The first commercial-scale laser system module is reported to be installed and commissioned, with construction and integration of the pilot-scale equipment currently said to be on track to be completed by the end of this year.
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NuScale / Utah Reactor Projects Gets Boost
- UAMPS Consortium Votes ‘Overwhelmingly’ To Go Ahead
- NuScale SMR, threatened by inflation and high interest rates, could be online in 2029
(NucNet) The project to deploy the first small modular reactor in the US got a major boost on last week when the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) consortium “overwhelmingly approved” by a vote of 26 to 1 plans to continue, despite costs that have increased above the target price due to high inflation and interest rate increases.
UAMPS said in a statement that with this week’s approval, the CFPP project management committee also approved a new budget and plan of finance.
“That action will move the small modular nuclear reactor project into an aggressive 2023 workplan, which focuses on completing the preparation of the application to construct and operate the plant, to be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in January 2024.”
It said other activities for 2023 include the procurement of long lead material and the development of a construction estimate, which will provide a more detailed cost estimate for the project.
UAMPSs said participants were provided an opportunity to withdraw from the project, or revise subscription levels, after costs increased above the target price due to high inflation and interest rate increases. Of the 27 participants in the project, 26 voted to continue, with one participant reducing its subscription level and one participant substantially increasing its subscription in the project.
Project ‘Remains Viable And Is Key Energy Resource’
Mason Baker, UAMPS chief executive officer and general manager said, “Despite the project’s rising costs, felt worldwide by all large energy projects due to interest rates increases and rapidly escalating inflation in commodities such as fabricated plate and structural steel, copper wire and cable, not seen for over 40 years, participants felt overwhelmingly that the CFPP remains viable and is a key energy resource for the future,”
“The project will support our decarbonization efforts, complement and enable more renewable energy, and keep the grid stable. It will produce steady, carbon-free energy for 40 years or longer.”
Power from the CFPP will be distributed among UAMPS’’ members that are participating in the project. The first module is scheduled to be operational in 2029 to meet UAMPS timeline for replacing aging assets.
In November 2022, press reports in the US said higher steel prices and interest rates were driving up the projected cost of energy from the planned CFPP. Previous cost estimates were for the project to generate power at a price of $58/MWh. Since then that number has increased to an estimated $89/MWh, NuScale said its Voygr SMR power plant remains a competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free power for customers.
NuScale plans to build a demonstration Voygr SMR power plant at the Idaho National Laboratory. The facility will deploy six 77-MW modules to generate 462 MW of electricity and could be online in 2029.
The project is wholly owned by UAMPS, a political subdivision of the state of Utah. UAMPS provides a variety of power supply, transmission, and other services to its 50 members, which include public power utilities in seven western states: Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
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