Global First Power enters into Canada SMR ‘negotiations’; US House to investigate Saudi Arabia nuclear venture

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

Global First Power advances to SMR 'negotiations' with Canada’s CNL

Global First Power has become the first small modular reactor (SMR) developer to advance to the third stage of Canada's selection process to build a reactor at a Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) site.

CNL has designated SMR technology as a research priority and aims to build at least one demonstration plant on site by 2026. In June 2018, four SMR developers entered into CNL's design selection process.

Canada's Global First Power is developing a 5 MWe high-temperature gas reactor designed by U.S. group Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC). Nuclear utility Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is supporting the project.

Global First Power has progressed through the prequalification and due diligence stages of the selection process and can now proceed with stage 3, which involves non-exclusive discussions on land arrangements, project risk management, and contractual terms, CNL said in a statement.

"These negotiations are not an indication of project approval, and the proposal and proponent must satisfy further stringent evaluation," CNL noted. The fourth and final stage of the process consists of construction, testing and commissioning the plant.

In addition, competing developers Starcore Nuclear and Terrestrial Energy have now advanced to the due diligence stage, CNL said.

Terrestrial Energy is proposing to build a 195 MWe integral molten salt reactor at a CNL site. Starcore Nuclear aims to build two 14 MWe high-temperature gas reactors at separate CNL sites.

CNL siting is not a requirement for commercial deployment, but will be particularly useful for non-light water reactor (LWR) developers with greater research and development (R&D) requirements.

The province of New Brunswick has also launched a $20 million R&D program to demonstrate the competitiveness of non-LWR technologies. Last July, the government of New Brunswick created a research cluster with SMR developers Moltex Energy and Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC), aiming to build demonstration plants by 2030.

                               Proposed SMR reactor types in Canada

                                                               (Click image to enlarge)

Source: CNL's 'Request for Expressions of Interest' report (October 2017).

The CNL and New Brunswick SMR support initiatives are independent of Canada's design licensing process, managed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's (CNSC).

Some 10 SMR developers have applied to the CNSC for pre-licensing vendor design review.

Earlier this month, USNC became the second SMR technology developer to complete phase 1 of CNSC's design review process, in which the regulator assesses the overall design against current CNSC design requirements.

In October, Terrestrial Energy became the first SMR developer to enter phase 2 of the CNSC's design review process, in which the design is examined for any fundamental barriers to licensing.

U.S. light water reactor SMR developer NuScale plans to commence phase 2 of the CNSC design review process in April, according to CNSC.

Massachusetts calls for hearing into Pilgrim decommissioning costs

The U.S. state of Massachusetts has filed a petition to intervene in the sale and license transfer of Entergy's 688 MW Pilgrim nuclear power plant to Holtec, over fears of insufficient funds. The plant is due to be shut down by June.

Last summer, Holtec signed agreements to purchase upon closure Entergy's Pilgrim plant, its 811 MW Palisades plant in Michigan, and Exelon’s 636 MW Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey. In addition, Holtec would take control of Entergy's decommissioned Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant site which still hosts an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI).

The license transfers will allow Holtec to perform immediate decommissioning under the DECON process, through a new joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. Holtec and SNC-Lavalin plan to assume a fleet decommissioning approach to generate economies of scale and series.

Attorney General Maura Healey has now called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to conduct a hearing into the funding of the decommissioning of the Pilgrim plant before it approves the asset and licence transfer, Healey's office announced February 21.

Entergy and Holtec have failed to demonstrate that the Decommissioning Trust Fund (DTF) for the Pilgrim plant is adequate to cover the costs and contingencies required for decommissioning and long-term spent fuel management, Healey's petition said.

"Holtec’s own Cost Estimate predicts that it will have a meager $3.6 million left in the Trust Fund on the license termination date—an amount that, on its face, raises serious questions about whether adequate financial assurance exists," the document said.

The Massachusetts government wants to ensure that cost concerns are considered during the license transfer proceeding and costs are not passed on to Massachusetts citizens, Healey's office said in a statement.

In January, Entergy completed the sale of its shutdown 620 MW Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to specialist decommissioning group NorthStar.

The deal represented the first permanent sale and license transfer of a shutdown nuclear power plant. The NRC approved the transaction in October.

The licence transfer approach substantially cuts decommissioning timelines and lowers risks to utilities associated with decommissioning, spent fuel management and site restoration, Susan Raimo, Senior Counsel at Entergy, told a conference in Charlotte in October.

Specialist decommissioning operators are able to cut costs and accelerate the potential economic benefits of re-using the site, Raimo said.

"We see this approach as having benefits for both sides. Both for as a utility and for our external stakeholders," she said.

US House opens enquiry into Saudi Arabia nuclear power venture

A U.S. House Committee has launched an investigation into whether actions by the Trump Administration to support nuclear plant sales in Saudi Arabia are in the national security interests of the U.S. or driven by the potential for personal financial gain.

The investigation was launched after whistleblowers told the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform of continuing attempts to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia without a full review of security concerns. Experts have warned the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology could proliferate the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Nuclear power capacity in the Middle East is forecast to rise from 3.6 GW in 2018 to 14.1 GW by 2028 according to construction timetables and recent agreements between Middle East countries and nuclear vendors, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in March 2018.

               Middle East nuclear capacity forecast (March 2018)

Strong U.S. private commercial interests have been "pressing aggressively" for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, the House committee said in a report which cited whistleblowers close to the matter.

Proponents of the nuclear plan included IP3 International, a private company led by ex-military officers and security officials, and Flynn Intel Group, a consultancy and lobby set up by Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Adviser.

"According to the whistleblowers, General Flynn continued to advocate for the adoption of the IP3 plan not only during the transition, but even after he joined the White House as President Trump’s National Security Advisor," the committee said in its report.

Flynn was fired from his post as National Security Adviser in February 2017 but White House officials continued to move forward on the IP3 nuclear plan, the report said.

"The Committee’s investigation is particularly critical because the Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing," the committee said.

President Trump met with nuclear power developers February 12 to discuss sharing nuclear technology with countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, it noted.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, would also visit Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia this week, to discuss economic solutions towards a Middle East peace plan, it said.

                    Middle East nuclear plants (March 2018)

Nuclear growth in the Middle East is mainly due to countries seeking to enhance energy security and diversify their economies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels accounted for 97% of power generation in the Middle East in 2017, of which natural gas accounted for 66% and oil 31%. The remaining 3% of electricity generation came from nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable energy sources.

Middle East countries also face increasing electricity demand due to growing populations and economies. Electricity demand in the region is forecast to rise by 30% by 2028, according to the EIA's latest International Energy Outlook. In comparison, the global average growth rate to 2028 is forecast at 18% while the average growth rate in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries is forecast at 24%, EIA said.                              

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