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

10 May 2019

China to complete building Canadian reactors in Romania

Nearly five years after China General Nuclear (CGN) submitted the sole non-binding bid for a contract to build two new reactors at Cernavoda and was declared a "qualified investor" in the project, a preliminary investors' agreement has now been signed. This is between Romanian national nuclear company Nuclearelectrica and CGN for the completion of units 3 and 4 at the plant. A joint venture company with 51% CGN equity is to be set up to advance the project. The two operating Cernavoda reactors provide nearly 20% of the country’s electricity.

In the 1970s Cernavoda was intended to comprise five Canadian CANDU reactors, a rare western technology selection behind the iron curtain. In the event one was built from 1980 and came on line in 1996. A second one was completed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) and Ansaldo Nucleare of Italy with the help of an EU loan and has been in operation since 2007. After plans involving several western companies were abandoned, the CGN engineering subsidiary in 2014 signed a "binding and exclusive" cooperation agreement with Candu Energy, AECL’s successor as technology vendor, for the construction of units 3 & 4 at Cernavoda as 700 MWe CANDU 6 reactors. In mid-2014 the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China agreed to finance the project, and this was followed by CGN’s 2014 bid to Nuclearelectrica. The two units are partly built with main concrete structures, but about €7.2 billion will be required to complete them. Meanwhile Cernavoda 1 is due for a full rebuild from 2026, which will likely take at least three years.
WNN 8/5/19.  Romania

UK step towards using americium for space power

The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has successfully separated americium-241 from old reactor-grade plutonium and used it in a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) to power a small light bulb. RTGs are used to power satellites, and most use plutonium-238 as their energy source to generate electric current. Pu-238 has high decay heat which is converted to electricity through static thermoelectric elements (solid-state thermocouples), with no moving parts. RTGs are safe, reliable and maintenance-free and can provide heat or electricity for decades under very harsh conditions, particularly where solar power is not feasible. Some plutonium powered RTGs can provide 2.7 kWh/day.

Am-241 is an alternative, with about one quarter the decay heat. This plus limited availability has hitherto favoured Pu-238 as energy source. An RTG with pure Am-241 needs about twice the isotope mass in it compared with Pu-238. The European Space Agency is pushing forward to employ Am-241 since Pu-238 is in short supply, and its Rosetta mission in 2014 showed up the limitations of solar power in space. NNL is aiming to produce usable power from americium in RTGs, and this has the added virtue of cleaning up UK’s civil plutonium stockpile which has progressively degraded due to the decay of Pu-241 (half-life 14 years) to the gamma-active Am-241, making it unsuitable for MOX fuel.
WNN 3/5/19.  Reactors and radioisotopes for space

Major uprate for US reactor

Tennessee Valley Authority has confirmed that the 155 MWe uprate of its third Brown’s Ferry reactor has been implemented, and it is in final testing and validation phase. The other two Browns Ferry units were uprated similarly by 14.3% last year, to 1310 MWe gross, with significant plant modifications. 

A recalibration uprate of Exelon’s Peach Bottom 2 was completed last year to add 22 MWe. Over 160 uprates for US reactors have been approved, mostly small ones, but totaling almost 8,000 MWe.
Platts 9/5/19.  US NP

26 April & 3 May 2019

New Russian reactor now on line

The second new reactor at Novovoronezh power plant in the southwest of Russia is now grid-connected, nearly three years after its twin. Rosenergoatom announced early last year that it would slow construction in response to low demand and pressure from power consumers to reduce rate increases. Construction, using new techniques, was already slow and took 118 months. Commercial operation is expected from December, adding 1114 MWe to the grid. These are the lead units of one variant of the VVER-1200 reactors, now the standard large Russian reactor for domestic use and export. Russia now has 36 power reactors operational, total 29 GWe.
WNN 2/5/19.   Russia NP

New reactor in South Korea now operational

Unit 4 of the Shin Kori nuclear power plant is now grid-connected, making it the 24th reactor in operation in South Korea, total over 23 GWe. When fully ramped up to full power the new APR1400 reactor will deliver about 1380 MWe net. Its twin, unit 3, was grid-connected in January 2016.  While Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power has a reputation for meeting construction schedules, both these reactors were delayed by the need to replace suspect parts and cabling. Unit 3 thus took 87 months to construct and unit 4 took 115 months, due to further regulatory delays.

Construction of Shin Kori 5 & 6 commenced in April 2017 and September 2018 respectively, with about 60 months construction time anticipated, despite a political delay following election of a new government in 2017.

At the end of April the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the APR1400 for US design certification.
WNN 25/4/19.  S.Korea

US reactor decommissioning confirms shorter time frame

With a new contract for an old plant, the trend in USA for more expeditious decommissioning of retired reactors appears to be strengthening. Until a few years ago most plants had the non-nuclear parts demolished while the reactor itself was left for 40 years or so that the radioactivity of structural components such as the pressure vessel decayed to harmless levels, a procedure known as Safstor. In some cases the owners undertook more immediate demolition, using remote handling. But now specialist companies are taking over shut-down plants and doing the demolition and clean-up.

In April the Omaha Public Power District in Nebraska contracted EnergySolutions to take over the decommissioning of its 482 MWe Fort Calhoun plant which was shut down in October 2016.  EnergySolutions has built up expertise in this area with a number of projects, and recently completed the accelerated decommissioning of Exelon’s Zion 1 & 2 reactors (2 x 1098 MWe) over eight years. EnergySolutions, dismantled the plant, shipped the radioactive waste to its disposal site in Utah, and returned the site to greenfield status.  To achieve this, in 2010 the plant’s licence and accumulated decommissioning funds were transferred from Exelon to EnergySolutions, which then became owner and licensee. The site will be returned to Exelon about 2020 with the used fuel which remains on site until taken to the future national repository. In 12 months to January 2015 EnergySolutions transferred all 2226 fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool to 61 robust dry casks on site, each about 75 tonnes – an independent spent fuel storage installation.
WNN 30/4/19.  Decommissioning

19 April 2019

Russia starts construction of large new reactor

Main construction work for the second unit at Kursk II in Russia has begun two weeks ahead of schedule, with first concrete poured for the base plate. The site close to the Ukraine border is the first to use the 1255 MWe VVER-TOI (typical optimised, with enhanced information) reactor design incorporating a new steel alloy in its enlarged pressure vessel. It is the most advanced Russian PWR design and is capable of load-following. Eventually four units will replace four RBMK reactors which came on line over 1977 to 1986 as these each reach about 45 years operation.
WNN 15/4/19.   Russia NP

South Korea starts up large new reactor

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power has started up its new Shin Kori 4 reactor and plans to connect it to the electricity grid at the end of this month. It will provide 1380 MWe alongside its twin, unit 3, which was connected to the grid in January 2016.  KHNP expects unit 4 to reach full commercial operation in September. Construction of two further APR1400 reactors there - units 5 and 6 - began in April 2017 and September 2018 respectively, and two others are under construction at Ulchin: Shin Hanul 1&2.  Four of these APR1400 reactors are nearly ready to operate at Barakah in the UAE, and other export initiatives are ongoing.
WNN 18/4/19. S.Korea

US states lead clean energy push for electricity

In the absence of federal initiatives, US states are pushing ahead with ambitious targets for clean energy, particularly for electricity generation. At present almost 20% of US electricity is from nuclear power, 7% from hydro and about 10% from other renewables. As the limitations of wind and solar become more evident, nuclear power comes into the discussion more strongly, along with carbon capture and storage (CCS) on fossil fuel plants, though this has yet to be demonstrated on any scale for power plants. The Energy Information Administration expects 31% of US electricity to be generated from renewables in 2050, which leaves a lot of room for other clean sources.

In March the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont affirmed their commitment “to work together, in coordination with [regional grid operator] ISO New England and through the New England States Committee on Electricity, to evaluate market-based mechanisms that value the contribution that existing nuclear generation resources make to regional energy security and winter reliability.”

Meanwhile New York state, Illinois and New Jersey all have some form of zero emission credits (ZECs) legislated for nuclear power, to preserve reliability and clean energy benefits not recognized in the electricity markets. This week New Jersey approved awarding of ZECs of about $11/MWh for two nuclear plants, total 3.7 GWe. Connecticut has a corresponding arrangement. Ohio and Pennsylvania have similar legislation in process. The levels of state support per MWh are significantly less than the federal production tax credit of $23/MWh for wind, amounting to some $4.8 billion last year, though this provision will start to phase out from 2021.
WNN 18/3/19, 16/4/19.  US NP

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