China willing to hand over control of first UK reactor; US lawmakers pass advanced reactor bill

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

China willing to hand over operations of UK Bradwell plant

China General Nuclear Power (CGN) would consider “not being the majority operator” of its planned Bradwell nuclear plant in the UK if political sensitivity is an issue, Zheng Dongshan, CEO of CGN's UK subsidiary, told the Financial Times (FT).

CGN plans to build a new plant at Bradwell using its Hualong HPR1000 design, currently under review by the UK licensing authorities.

France's EDF would take a minority stake in the project, according to a deal signed between the companies in 2016. CGN also holds a third stake in EDF's 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C EPR project, expected online from 2025, and is a partner in EDF's planned Sizewell EPR project.

In 2016, the UK government said it would take a golden share in all future UK nuclear new build projects and other critical infrastructure, allowing it to prevent the sale of significant equity stakes.

In July, the government published a White Paper which aims to increase the government's powers to prevent foreign purchases of sensitive UK assets. The document was reportedly primarily focused on Chinese deal-making.

CGN has ambitious plans for industrial partnerships with UK and the company understands the "political and local sensitivities," Zheng told the FT in an article published September 17.

“There is no reason to restrict us as a Chinese investor . . . but we know we must take time to show the public, the government, they can trust us,” he said.

European nuclear developers could significantly reduce costs if they implement labor deployment, project governance and other drivers which have slashed costs in Asia, a recent report said.

By improving their performance rating against eight key cost drivers, European and North American new build projects could reduce costs by over 35%, according to the report commissioned by Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and led by CleanTech Catalyst (CTC) and Lucid Strategy.

                          Capital costs for historical and ongoing nuclear projects 

                                                                (Click image to enlarge)

Source: The ETI Nuclear Cost Drivers Project, Summary Report (April 2018).

CGN is reportedly not seeking any direct investment from the UK government in the Bradwell project.

According to the FT, the government is considering using a regulated asset base model to finance new nuclear projects. Back in June, energy secretary Greg Clark said the government would consider taking a direct stake in Hitachi's planned 2.7 GW Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant in Anglesey, Wales.

The government has been under pressure to reduce the cost of new nuclear power plants after it guaranteed a power price for EDF's 3.2 GW Hinkley point C EPR project at 92.50 pounds per MWh, considered by many to be uncompetitive given falling renewable energy costs.

Cost of capital is one reason for the high power price. EDF and its Chinese partners are bearing all construction risks for Hinkley Point C, which is expected to cost around 20 billion pounds to build.

US advanced reactor support bill passes both Houses

The U.S. House of Representatives adopted September 13 the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) which creates partnerships between advanced reactor developers and government research bodies in order to accelerate deployment.

Passed by the Senate in March, the bipartisan bill has been sent to President Trump for his signature.

Led by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), NEICA is the result of years of bipartisan collaboration.

The measure directs the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to prioritize partnerships with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts, Crapo said in a statement.

The bill also authorizes the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center that combines National Labs and DOE resources to enable the construction of experimental reactors, he said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would contribute safety expertise to the center while learning about the new technologies.

The bill also requires the DOE to award grants for some of the fees the NRC charges for pre-application and application review activities for advanced nuclear reactor designs.

The U.S. nuclear industry has called for faster development of supportive licensing regimes for advanced reactor technologies, fearing the U.S. could lose competitive advantage.

"[NEICA] will eliminate barriers to innovation within the private sector and strengthen collaboration with our national labs to maintain American pre-eminence in nuclear energy," Crapo said.

The bill will "help bring new technologies forward to compete against polluting forms of energy like coal and natural gas," Whitehouse said.

"They may also move forward technologies that could actually reduce our existing stockpiles of spent nuclear," he said.

Terrestrial partners with Southern, DOE to research hydrogen production

SMR developer Terrestrial Energy USA has partnered with the U.S.' Southern Company and several U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories to research hydrogen production using Terrestrial's integrated molten salt reactor (IMSR), Terrestrial announced September 5.

In a two-year project, the partners aim to demonstrate the commercial and industrial-scale viability of hydrogen production using the hybrid sulphur process.

The hybrid sulphur cycle uses a two-step process to split water to produce hydrogen. This process may be more efficient than the more commonly used process of high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE), Terrestrial said.

The hybrid sulphur research project builds on two decades of research at Savannah River National Laboratory, which will lead the technology development, along with Sandia National Laboratories and Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

High temperatures and operational flexibility could position small modular reactors (SMRs) at the heart of the growing hydrogen market.

Current hydrogen demand is dominated by two markets: petroleum refineries and ammonia production. It is also used for applications in metals production & fabrication, methanol production, food processing and electronics sectors. Future hydrogen applications include transportation, thermal energy and energy storage.

By 2020, the global hydrogen market is expected to reach $200 billion, Terrestrial said.

                         US hydrogen demand by sector

Source: U.S. Department of Energy. Uses 2015 figures from CryoGas International.

The smaller capacities and emergency planning zone (EPZ) requirements of SMRs mean they could directly supply individual sites. In addition, the individual modules of SMR plants could provide a range of different applications, including hydrogen production, electricity and heat, developers say.

A study by SMR developer NuScale and the DOE's Idaho National Laboratories in 2014 concluded that a six module, 300 MW NuScale light water reactor IPWR plant could supply the hydrogen demand of a mid-sized ammonia production plant, while a twelve-module plant could support a mid-sized refinery.

In the coming decades, next-generation high temperature nuclear reactor designs could provide the best-value hydrogen production. In the short term, nuclear-based hydrogen production would need to accompany electricity production to be economical, experts told Nuclear Energy Insider.

Nuclear Energy Insider