- South Korean Firms Plan to Offer Advanced SMRs to Saudi Arabia for Desalination
- US Progress for Agreement on Nuclear Power in Philippines
- Japan / Delayed Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Could Begin Operations Next Year
- DOE Awards $3.9 Million for Advanced Reactor Experiment Designs
South Korean Firms Plan to Offer Advanced SMRs to Saudi Arabia for Desalination
For several years the global nuclear energy industry has been following the slow progress of the Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry procurement action to acquire and build two 1400 MW PWRs selected from one of four offers.
A new development is that another part of the Saudi government is in talks to acquire small modular reactors from South Korea for the purpose of desalination of seawater for industrial and residential use.
According to the South Korean business wire Kedglobal.com, South Korea’s DL E&C Co. announced this week it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the application of small modular reactors (SMRs) in desalination plants with Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Corp. (SWCC),
DL E&C and SWCC have agreed to explore the best solutions for utilizing small modular reactors (SMRs) in desalination plants. Additionally, they have decided to collaborate on research into a clean hydrogen and ammonia production model using SMR to create added value. Ammonia can be used as an alternative fuel for cargo ships and stationary land based power solutions.
The current collaboration in Saudi Arabia occurred as DL E&C was selected to visit Saudi Arabia through the 2023 Middle East Economic Mission Program, an initiative aimed at enhancing private sector cooperation with Middle Eastern countries, organized by the Federation of Korean Industries, Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), among others.
Prospects for SMRs in Saudi Arabia
DL E&C is promoting SMRs. The company has strategically invested in X-Energy, LLC which is developing a fourth-generation SMR. The XE-100 is an 80 MW HTGR which is expected to be sold to customers in four unit packages. The firm has a provisional agreement with Dow to provide four of its HTGRs to the company to provide electricity and process heat for one of its chemical manufacturing plants in Texas. X-Energy is receiving cost-shared funding from the US Department of Energy under the agency’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.
Complicated Prospects for the Saudi Nuclear Program
While South Korean firms may want to sell SMRs in which they have invested to Saudi Arabia, a complicated set of circumstances stand in their way. No US firm can sell reactor technology to Saudi Arabia at this time due to the fact that that country does not have a 123 Agreement with the US that provides assurances for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Saudi Arabia linked its request to the US for help with its nuclear program to diplomatic progress with Israel. Saudi talks with the US and Israel for normalization of diplomatic relations are on hold due to the war between Israel and Hamas
Efforts to negotiate an agreement that addresses Saudi Arabia’s intense commitment to seeking the capability to enrich uranium have been ongoing but any progress towards a deal may be in hiatus due to the hostilities taking place in Israel in response to terrorist attacks by Hamas coming over the border from the Gaza strip.
Despite the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East, with the prospect of a wider scope of conflict involving Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Jordan, Saudi Arabia may not be pausing its drive for nuclear energy even if diplomatic efforts with Israel and the US are sidelined by the war.
Speaking last week to The New Arab, a think tank, Mark Hibbs, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program, said, “Today the rationales and aims for nuclear power in Saudi Arabia seem set in stone: technology development, energy diversification away from carbon fuels, optimal long-term management of its fossil resources, and, not least, strategic weight in the Middle East and beyond that Riyadh is confident would result from possession of nuclear energy assets.”
Hibbs said that multiple uncertainties make for a “clouded” future including Israel’s concerns about Saudi plans for enrichment and questions about congressional approval for a 123 agreement that doesn’t include a ban on it.
Also, he noted that “Saudi Arabia has so far comparatively little experience in the nuclear field. It will have to rely on foreign partners to set up nuclear technology capacities and infrastructure.”
Saudi Water Use and Desalination
SWCC, a Saudi government agency and the second-largest power generator in the country, currently operates the world’s largest seawater desalination facility which burns fossil fuels and uses solar energy to power the conversion of sea water and re-cycled waste water to fresh water. The ministry, like other parts of the government, is seeking alternative energy sources other than fossil to run its operations.
Converting seawater to freshwater is a huge priority for Saudi Arabia. According to Statistica, as of 2023, Saudi Arabia is the world leader in spending on the process with $15 billion spent so far. Saudi Arabia has about $8 billion worth of additional projects currently in concept, design and tender.
As of October 2020, the Kingdom had a total of 33 desalination plants in 17 locations run by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which is responsible for approximately 69% of desalination in the Kingdom (5.6 million m3/d).
As of 2021 The Kingdom’s overall water demand stands at an estimated 25.29 billion m3 annually but is projected to grow slightly to 25.79 billion by 2025. Overall, 60% of the Kingdom’s total water supply comes from desalination.
The SWCC uses multi-stage flash distillation (MSFD) and reverse osmosis process. MSFD required both electricity and process heat whereas reverse osmosis just requires electric power.
However, desalination technologies have major limitations. The fact the plants are expensive to build and use, and require a huge amount of energy to run. At the same time, they produce large amounts of waste brine which is harmful to marine life and the environment, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, e.g., CO2, if they run on diesel or other fossil fuels.
Desalination Benchmarks for SMRs
According to the World Nuclear Association, small and medium sized nuclear reactors are suitable for desalination, often with cogeneration of electricity using low-pressure steam from the turbine and hot seawater feed from the final cooling system. The main opportunities for nuclear plants have been identified as the 80-100,000 m3/d and 200-500,000 m3/d ranges.
WNA also notes South Korea has developed a small nuclear reactor design for cogeneration of electricity and potable water. The 330 MWt SMART reactor (an integral PWR) has a long design life and needs refueling only every three years. The main concept has the SMART reactor coupled to four MED units, each with thermal-vapor compressor (MED-TVC) and producing total 40,000 m3/d, with 90 MWe.
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US Progress for Agreement on Nuclear Power in Philippines
According to English language news media reports in the Philippines, the US and that country may be able to sign the agreement allowing US nuclear technology to be sold to power utilities in the country by the end of the year.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay Carlson said that the nuclear negotiations between both countries had progressed since Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit last November 2022, with about 90% of the agreement completed.
Carlson said in response to media inquiries, “It is a very complex agreement, but both sides from the Philippines and the United States have really rolled up their sleeves and gotten down to business and have made great progress.”
The 123 Agreement will serve as the foundation for the civil nuclear partnership and permit exporting of US nuclear fuel, equipment, reactors, and special nuclear material to the country.
The Ambassador further explained that numerous nuclear firms expressed their interest in investing but could not do so because of a lack of agreement.
“As soon as that agreement is signed, then our private sector companies can work facilitated by both governments and sort of help put them together,” Carlson added.
Last May, US nuclear energy company NuScale Power Corporation revealed its interest in the Philippines and its plans to carry out a study to find a site in the country.
Philippine Reactor Market to 2040
The Philippines is looking at developing substantially more nuclear capacity in a bid to curb rising energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. For a review of the market prospects of nuclear energy in the Philippines, see a report in Nuclear Engineering International for October 2023 by Joseph Somsel.
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Japan / Delayed Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Could Begin Operations Next Year
- Up to 97% of used nuclear fuel could be recycled and reused
(NucNet) Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) hopes to finish construction of a long-delayed nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the first half of fiscal 2024.
JNFL, co-owned by a number of companies including Tokyo Electric Power and Kansai Electric Power, owns the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan which it aims to complete between April and June next year.
Japan has about 19,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel in storage, or 80% of total capacity, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Spent fuel is held at Japanese utilities sites and by the JNFL.
Some 95%-97% of used nuclear fuel could be recycled to be used at nuclear power plants. The facility will be able to process up to 800 tonnes of spent fuel per year and extract about eight tonnes of plutonium, which will be used to produce MOX fuel.
Construction of the reprocessing plant began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays. According to the Japan Times the schedule has been pushed back 23 times by a number of technical and safety issues. Press reports in Japan said the facility has cost nearly $130 billion (€.122bn).
Most recently, it was found in 2017 that JNFL had failed to carry out necessary inspections on an area of the plant for 14 years, resulting in nearly one tonne of rainwater pouring into a building housing an emergency diesel generator.
In July 2020, the facility formally passed safety checks after the country’s nuclear regulator finalized a report saying the facility was compatible with regulatory standards introduced following the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident.
The reprocessing plant is part of a larger nuclear fuel cycle R&D facility that includes plants for enrichment, recycling and the production of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.
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DOE Awards $3.9 Million for Advanced Reactor Experiment Designs
- Three companies selected to design test reactor experiments at Idaho National Laboratory
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), awarded $3.9 million to three advanced nuclear energy developers to design experiments to test microreactor designs in the Demonstration of Microreactor Experiments (DOME) test bed at Idaho National Laboratory.
Radiant, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, and Westinghouse will further their microreactor designs through a front-end engineering and experiment design (FEEED) process. The FEEED process supports developers in planning for the design, fabrication, construction, and testing of fueled reactor experiments.
“The FEEED process will bring three microreactor designs—Kaleidos, Pylon, and eVinci—one step closer to reality” said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dr. Kathryn Huff. “These technologies will give choices to diverse communities looking to transition to a clean energy future.”
Microreactors are compact nuclear reactors typically capable of producing 1 to 20 megawatts of thermal energy that could be used directly as heat or converted to electric power. They are the right size to power independent microgrids, restore power in emergency situations, or supply remote communities that currently rely on diesel generators.
DOME is a new test bed intended to speed up microreactor development. DOME will repurpose the Experimental-Breeder Reactor-II containment structure, lessening the environmental footprint, saving companies money in the testing process, and reducing overall project risk.
Testing in DOME could start as early as 2026. DOE is also developing the Laboratory for Operation and Testing in the U.S. (LOTUS) test bed, which will host smaller reactor experiments to support the development of advanced reactors.
NRIC is developing the DOME and LOTUS test beds. NRIC developed the FEEED process to help industry partners progress more quickly toward first-of-a-kind testing of advanced reactors. Learn more about NRIC at https:/nric.inl.gov.
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