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

1 & 8 June

New reactor starts up and another commences operation in China

The first Areva (now Framatome) EPR has started up at Taishan in the south of Guangdong province. This is the world’s largest reactor – 1750 MWe gross - and the first of the type in the world to reach criticality. It has been under construction for eight and a half years, which is faster than two others in France and Finland. The company building the Taishan plant is a subsidiary of China General Nuclear (CGN), and has 30% EdF equity. Unit 2 is about a year behind it.

The fifth reactor at Yangjiang nuclear power plant also in Guangdong province (and not far from Taishan) has been connected to the grid after 56 months construction. It is a 1080 MWe ACPR1000 reactor, the final design variant of a long series based on French technology.  It is also the first Chinese reactor to feature a domestically-developed digital control system. Its twin, unit 6, is less than a year behind it. Hong Kong-based utility China Light and Power (CLP) has a 17% share of the operating company, which is a CGN subsidiary.  This brings to 39 the operating nuclear power reactors in China, with 35,667 MWe net, while 17 large units are under construction (including Taishan, above, pending grid connection).
WNN 25/5/18.   China NP

USA drafts plans to secure power from nuclear plants

The US President has directed the Department of Energy to make plans to secure the future of nuclear and coal-fired plants at risk of closure. The plan would see DOE use authority under two existing laws - the Federal Power Act and the 1950 Defense Production Act - temporarily to delay retirements of fuel-secure electric generation resources, while it analyses and takes action to address the "resilience needs" of the electric generation system. This would involve directing system operators over a two-year period to purchase electricity or generation capacity from a designated list of facilities, to forestall any further retirements pending a fuller review of the electricity markets. The proposed order would also establish a Strategic Electric Generation Reserve. These measures replace a proposed rulemaking of September 2017 which would have recognised the attributes of generation sources able to store substantial fuel on site, such as nuclear plants.
WNN 4/6/18.   US NP

Langer Heinrich mine prepares to suspend production

Paladin Energy is preparing to shut down production from its Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia until uranium prices improve.  The mine has remaining reserves of 35,000 tU.  Last year mining was curtailed and production from stockpiles was 1308 tU, the lowest output since 2009. The plant will be put on care and maintenance.  Paladin’s Kayelekera mine in Malawi is also on care and maintenance following shutdown in 2014.  Paladin said that “Being the lowest cost open-pit uranium mine in the world means [Langer Heinrich mine] will likely be one of the first mines to return to production as the uranium market normalises.”

The mine joins Cameco’s McArthur River in Canada – shut down for most of 2018 and removing about 8000 tU from supply. Also Kazatomprom is reducing Kazakh uranium production by 20% in 2018 for three years, removing about 2600 tU from the market. Other cutbacks are in Niger.
WNN 26/4/18, Paladin 25/5/18.   Namibia, Canada U

18 & 25 May 2018

Russian floating nuclear power plant arrives at Murmansk

Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, Akademik Lomonosov, has arrived at Murmansk after being towed 4000 km around Scandinavia from its St Petersburg shipyard. It was then handed over to Rosenergoatom, its owner and future operator.  The twin 35 MWe reactors will be fuelled at the Atomflot base before the barge-mounted plant continues next year to its operational site at Pevek, on the northeast coast of Siberia in the Chukotka autonomous district, where preparatory works are under way. The RUR 21.5 billion ($350 million) plant will replace the small and old Bilibino nuclear power plant and a thermal power plant.

Its KLT-40S reactors are similar to those used for some years in Russian icebreakers, but run on low-enriched uranium. Rosatom is developing a second generation of floating nuclear power plants for other northern sites, using the new RITM-200M reactors of 50 MWe each. These are much lighter than the KLT units and very similar to the latest icebreaker power plants. They have a much longer refuelling cycle.
WNN 21/5/18.   Russia NP

USA halts construction of MOX plant

After several years of uncertainty and reduced budgets, construction of an expensive US plant to incorporate surplus military-grade plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear power plants has been halted. The Department of Energy (DOE) now intends to dilute the material and dispose of it in an underground New Mexico waste repository that is designed for such low-activity materials. Some may be “moved elsewhere for programmatic uses”, rather than wasted. The 70%-built MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the DOE's Savannah River Site in South Carolina will be converted for other uses, apparently related to US weapons.

The genesis of the project was the 2000 US-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement to dispose of 34 tonnes of military surplus plutonium in each country by 2014, incorporating it (with depleted uranium) into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.  A 2010 protocol to the Agreement confirmed MOX for light water reactors as the sole disposal option for the USA, while Russia would dispose of the material as MOX in fast reactors. Construction of the US MFFF began in 2007 under a $2.7 billion contract to the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which will own the plant. It is based on Orano’s Melox plant in France, but is more complex, which has delayed progress. The timeline for operation had already gone out to 2019 and the cost estimate had blown out to $7.7 billion.  Russia’s counterpart MFFF at Zheleznogorsk started up in 2014 after four years construction costing RUR 9.3 billion ($142 million) according to Rosatom. In October 2016 President Putin cancelled the 2000 Agreement unilaterally.

Most MOX plants use fresh reactor-grade plutonium comprising about one-third non-fissile plutonium isotopes; the MFFF plants use weapons plutonium with more than 90% fissile isotopes to make MOX fuel very similar to normal enriched uranium fuel.
WNN 17/5/18.   US fuel cycle

 


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