EDF delays start-up of French EPR by a year; Holtec to acquire Entergy, Exelon reactors

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

EDF delays start-up of Flamanville-3 EPR as weld issues bite

EDF has delayed the start-up of its 1.65 GW Flamanville-3 EPR plant project by around a year following its analysis of faulty welds in the main secondary system of the plant, the company announced July 25.

Fuel loading has been delayed from the fourth quarter of 2018 to Q4 2019, to allow for repairs to 53 out of 148 inspected welds, EDF said in a statement. For 10 other welds, EDF has submitted a safety justification method to ASN, France's nuclear safety authority.

The reactor is now expected to be connected to the grid in Q1 2020 and start of full commercial capacity is scheduled for Q2 2020, Laurent Thieffry, Flamanville 3 project director, told reporters.

EDF has increased its cost estimate for the project from 10.5 billion euros ($12.0 billion) to 10.9 billion euros, the company said.

Flamanville 3 is the first EPR reactor to be built in France and is already several years behind schedule.

A recent study of global nuclear costs showed European and North American nuclear construction projects can significantly learn from faster and lower-cost projects in Asia.

New nuclear plants could become competitive in Europe and North America if developers prioritize cost key drivers such as labor deployment and project governance, the study said.

     Costs for historic/ ongoing nuclear projects

                              (Click image to enlarge)

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

The latest delay at Flamanville 3 could mean extended operations at EDF's two 900 MW reactors at Fessenheim. The operator must close the Fessenheim reactors when Flamanville 3 starts commercial operation, to comply with a national cap on nuclear power capacity.

"The impact on operations of the two Fessenheim reactors is currently being reviewed," EDF said.

UK government review recommends subsidies for first SMR plants

The UK government should support first of a kind (FOAK) small modular reactor (SMR) projects through a range of financing mechanisms including Contracts for Difference (CfDs) like those used for EDF's Hinkley Point C EPR and offshore wind projects, a report by an independent group of experts said August 7.

The UK could be well placed to develop FOAK SMR projects and the government should enable development through clear policy frameworks "rather than down-selecting technologies," the government-appointed Expert Finance Working Group (EFWG) said in its report.

The government launched a competition for the best-value SMR in March 2016 and it recently pledged 56 million pounds ($71.4 million) towards the development and licensing of eight advanced reactor designs. The government also pledged 32 million pounds towards advanced manufacturing research as part of a 200 million pound Nuclear Sector Deal.

"For technologies capable of being commercially deployed by 2030, [the government] should focus its resources on bringing FOAK projects to market," the EFWG said.

The government should make sites available for FOAK SMRs and reduce the cost of capital through a new infrastructure fund, direct equity or state-backed guarantees, the working group said. In addition, the government should provide funding for CfD power purchase models or potentially a regulated asset base model, it said.

The 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C project holds a state-backed 35-year CfD at a price of 92.50 pounds per MWh ($118.0/MWh), considered by many to be uncompetitive given falling renewable energy costs.

"For [nth of a kind] projects, the market should be self-sustaining having learnt the lessons of the large nuclear plant and the small nuclear projects that will have gone before," the EFWG said.

Holtec to acquire US Pilgrim, Palisades, Oyster Creek reactors upon shutdown

Holtec is to acquire Entergy's 688 MW Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, its 811 MW Palisades plant in Michigan, and Exelon’s 636 MW Oyster Creek plant, to perform accelerated decommissioning, the companies announced July 31 - August 2.

Entergy had previously announced its intention to retire the Pilgrim plant by June 1, 2019, followed by Palisades in the spring of 2022.

"The sales include the transfer of the licenses, spent fuel, and Nuclear Decommissioning Trusts (NDTs), as well as the site of the decommissioned Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant near Charlevoix, Michigan, where only the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) remains," Entergy said in a statement. The sale agreements and license transfers are subject to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approvals.

Holtec is finalizing contracts with Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI), a newly-formed U.S.-based joint venture company between Holtec and SNC-Lavalin, to perform the demolition and clean-up of the two plants and sites. The two discrete multi-year contracts are each worth "hundreds of millions of dollars," SNC Lavalin said in a separate statement.

Holtec will also contract with CDI to perform the decontamination and decommissioning of Oyster Creek.

Holtec expects to initiate prompt decommissioning of Pilgrim in 2020 and expects to complete all major decommissioning work within around eight years, Entergy said.

A timeline for the decommissioning of Palisades will be developed closer to its shutdown, the utility said.

For both Pilgrim and Palisades, Holtec expects to transfer all of the spent nuclear fuel out of the spent fuel pools and into dry cask storage within approximately three years of shutdown.

The sale of the plants is in line with Entergy's strategy to exit wholesale commodities and transform into a pure-play utility.

In November 2016, Entergy agreed to transfer the licenses of its shutdown 620 MW Vermont Yankee plant to decommissioning group NorthStar, in a deal which will accelerate decommissioning and restore the Vermont Yankee site by 2030.

Entergy also plans to close its 2 GW Indian Point nuclear plant in New York State in 2020-2021.

Iowa reactor closure brought forward to 2020

The closure of NextEra Energy's 600 MW Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) nuclear plant in Iowa has been brought forward by five years to 2020 after offtaker Alliance Energy shortened its purchase contract.

Alliant Energy has agreed to make a $110 million buyout payment to NextEra Energy Resources in September 2020 to shorten the term of the DAEC power purchase agreement (PPA) from 2025 to 2020, Alliance Energy said in a statement July 27.

Under new agreements, NextEra Energy Resources will supply to Alliance Energy 340 MW of capacity from repowered Iowa wind farms.

Low gas prices and rising renewable energy capacity have crushed nuclear power margins.

Wind power growth has been particularly strong in the U.S. Interior, helping to drive down capital costs. In Iowa, wind power has risen from 8% of generation capacity in 2008, to 37% in 2016. Coal's share of net electricity generation declined from 76% in 2008 to 46% in 2016.

                             Iowa power generation by plant type

                                                        (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Iowa Utilities Board

The DAEC is Iowa's only nuclear power plant and is licensed to operate until 2034.

NextEra Energy Resources expects a gradual reduction in staffing at the DAEC over the next seven years as the decommissioning process takes place.

Nuclear Energy Insider