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Significant nuclear-related news items in perspective. For previous items, see the Archive.

8 & 15 March 2019

Further two US reactor licence renewals

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has renewed the operating licence of Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear power plant to 2044, and NextEra’s Seabrook plant to 2050. These reactors are PWRs of 1165 MWe and 1251 MWe net respectively. This brings to 94 the total of US power reactors granted 20-year licence extensions to take their operating lives to 60 years. Two more applications are expected.

Thus 92 of the 98 operating US power reactors are likely to have 60-year operating licences, with owners undertaking major capital works to upgrade them at around 30-40 years.  By 2017, 56 out of 65 US PWRs had replaced their original steam generators with more durable ones, involving a 3-month outage. About 45 PWRs have also replaced reactor pressure vessel heads, and BWRs may need to replace core shrouds. Upgrades of instrument and control systems are also a priority, with all US plants originally having analogue I&C systems. The owners of Davis-Besse invested almost $1 billion for its mid-life refurbishment to take it to 2037. The licence renewal review process itself typically costs $16-25 million, and takes several years for NRC to process.

NRC is now considering the first three of about 20 anticipated second licence renewal applications to extend operating lives from 60 to 80 years.
WNN 13/3/19.  USA NP

US government affirms support for nuclear zero emission credits

The US Energy Secretary says that he and the Department of Energy (DOE) support US states that put in place provisions to support nuclear power on a similar basis to renewables. The need to assure reliable supply of electricity is becoming more obvious, especially in the northeast, despite pushback against nuclear support from fossil fuel and environmentalist lobbies. In Pennsylvania the legislature is debating new rules to include nuclear power to operate under its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act with renewables. Nuclear power plants generate 42% of its electricity and 93% of its zero-carbon power. The DOE supports such programs run by states that do not rely on the federal government. 

New York state, Illinois, Connecticut, and New Jersey all have some kind of zero emission credit schemes applying to nuclear power, Pennsylvania and Ohio have legislation pending. These address the problem of several US nuclear plants being economically threatened by competition from low-cost natural gas from fracking, and subsidised wind capacity. In June 2017 MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy research published a study showing that saving US nuclear "would come at a cost of $4-7/MWh on average in these markets, which is much lower than the cost of subsidizing wind power." The zero emission credits for New York are currently $17.54/MWh, those in Illinois $16.50/MWh, while the current US Production Tax Credit level for renewables is $23/MWh.
Platts 13/3/19.  USA NP

22 February & 1 March 2019

USA launches new test reactor program

The US Department of Energy has launched its Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program, set up under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act 2017 and run by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The program was funded, with bipartisan support, last year. The VTR, or versatile fast neutron source, will provide leading-edge capability for testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors, with accelerated neutron damage rates 20 times greater than current water-cooled test reactors.

GE-Hitachi is working with INL to adapt its PRISM as a test reactor under this program for R&D, though the PRISM design is currently as a 311 MWe power reactor, derived from earlier US designs. The VTR is to be operational at INL by the end of 2025, closing an extraordinary 30-year gap since EBR-II fast reactor closed in 1994 by political edict. This was a major setback to US nuclear research, and over this period the USA has been progressively overtaken in nuclear technology. The only other fast-neutron test reactor operating is BN-60 in Russia, to be replaced after 2020 by MBIR, now under construction there.
Research reactors, Fast reactors

Australian uranium deposit approaches operation after 47 years development

Boss Resources has announced completion of the optimisation testwork program, the first phase of the restart strategy for its 100% owned Honeymoon uranium project in South Australia. While the deposit, 80 kilometres north west of Broken Hill, was mined briefly by a previous owner, it has been effectively under development since its discovery in 1972.  The orebody 70-130 metres deep and amenable to mining by in situ leaching, though the groundwater has high chloride levels, which is one of the reasons for the drawn-out development with a succession of about ten different equity holders – Australian, US, Russian and Japanese.  While well over $100 million has been spent on it, Boss Resources acquired it in 2015 for A$ 11.5 million and has made a fresh approach with process improvements. It is expected to ramp up to producing 1230 tU per year when it is commissioned.
WNN 28/2/19.  Australian mines

 


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