Iowa reactor set to close in 2025; Lightbridge partners with Framatome to sell "cheapest" fuel

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Iowa wind power capacity has soared in recent years, denting the profits of conventional power generators. (Image credit: Instamatics)

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Iowa’s only nuclear plant set to close in 2025

Nextera energy will likely close its 600 MW Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) nuclear power plant in Iowa in 2025, as the primary offtake customer is unlikely to extend its contract, the operator said in a quarterly results statement January 26.

Nuclear power operators face continuing pressure from low wholesale electricity prices, driven by low gas prices and rising renewable energy capacity. In particular, Iowa has seen a massive surge in wind power generation, from 8% of generation 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

Following a review of the book value and asset retirement obligation of the DAEC plant, Nextera has recorded an after-tax impairment of $258 million, "reflecting the company's belief that it is unlikely the project will operate after 2025," it said.

The DAEC is Iowa's only nuclear power plant and is licensed to operate until 2034. Nextera is seeking a contract extension that would enable the plant to continue operations beyond 2025, it said.

Exelon to close Oyster Creek in October 2018

Exelon is to close its 636 MW Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey in October 2018, earlier than planned, the company said February 2. Exelon is required to close the plant by December 2019 under an agreement with the State of New Jersey.

The new closure schedule will help Exelon manage fuel and maintenance costs, the company said.

The shutdown schedule for Oyster Creek also allows Exelon time to re-employ plant staff in other parts of the business, the company said. Oyster Creek employs around 500 staff and some will stay on to decommission the facility after it is shut down.

Exelon has estimated it will cost more than $1 billion to decommission the plant, the Wall St Journal reported.

Exelon also plans to retire its 852 MW Three Mile Island Generating Station (TMI) in Pennsylvania in September 2019 unless the government implements new policies to support the plant, the company said in May 2017.

Exelon decided to continue operating its Clinton and Quad cities plants in Illinois after the plants were given support through the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, introduced in December 2016.

                       US nuclear decommissioning projects
                                                    (Click image to enlarge)

Lightbridge partners with Framatome to bring low-cost fuel to market

U.S. fuel developer Lightbridge and France's Framatome have launched a joint venture company, Enfission, to develop, license and sell nuclear fuel assemblies based on Lightbridge-designed metallic fuel technology. The two companies have already performed joint fuel development and licensing work under an agreement signed in March 2016.

Lightbridge's fuel technology operates around 1,000°C cooler than standard nuclear fuel and is designed to be used in existing and future reactors.

The lower cost of the fuel will enable nuclear operators to produce electricity cheaper than gas, coal wind and solar plants, Seth Grace, CEO of Lightbridge, told Fox News.

"We've developed the cheapest way to deploy electricity to the grid," he said.

U.S. nuclear operators Exelon, Dominion, Duke and Southern company are advising Lightbridge on fuel development and deployment. The operators have notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to prepare to licence the fuel for commercial use, Grace told Fox News.

"We expect that among those will be the first users of our fuel, with first fuel rods in a commercial reactor in the United States in about 2021," he said.

Controlled by France's EDF, Framatome designs and manufactures nuclear plant equipment and systems. Framatome supplies fuel assembly designs to more than 100 light water reactors (LWRs) around the world. Previously called "New NP," the company was renamed at the start of 2018.

Northstar owner acquires Waste Control Specialists

JF Lehman & Company (JFLCO) has acquired Waste Control Specialists (WCS) from Valhi group, JFLCO said in a statement January 26. JFLCO already owns Northstar, the specialist decommissioning group.

WCS owns and operates a waste disposal, storage and treatment facility for Class A, B, and C low-level nuclear waste in Andrews County, Texas.

JFLCO would look to support the long-term success of WCS and strengthen WCS' partnership with NorthStar to deliver a "best-in-class nuclear power plant decommissioning solution,” the company said.

In November 2015, Valhi agreed to sell WCS to EnergySolutions, a decommissioning and waste company, but the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the sale on competition grounds. EnergySolutions currently operates 50% of active U.S. commercial decommissioning sites, providing a wide range of services including waste disposal.

Scott State, CEO of WCS and NorthStar, said WCS has invested substantial capital in the Andrews County facility and the site "maintains significant capacity for growth."

In 2016, WCS submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the first phase of a 40,000 metric tonne consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for high-level waste.

There are currently around 78,620 metric tons (MT) of used nuclear fuel stored at decommissioned and active reactor sites across 35 states. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a pilot facility for consolidated storage be built by 2021, followed by a larger storage facility by 2025 and a permanent repository by 2048.

WCS said it would look to deploy Areva and NAC International casks in the first phase, focusing on waste from higher-return decommissioned sites, to minimize risks to project duration and costs.

Holtec is also developing a $280 million CISF which would host 10,000 storage canisters representing 120,000 MT of spent fuel. The facility would be located in New Mexico, between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs.

China merges CNNC, CNEC to form $100-billion group

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is to take over China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (CNEC), the country's largest nuclear plant construction firm, to create a company worth almost $100 billion, Reuters reported January 31.

Approval for the merger was announced by the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), according to the report.

Beijing is aiming to create globally competitive companies which are better-positioned to bid for and finance overseas projects, it said.

The combined nuclear company would have assets worth more than 620 billion yuan ($99 billion) and a workforce of almost 150,000, according to Reuters calculations.

Last year, the Chinese government oversaw the merger of China's top coal mining company Shenhua Group with China Guodian Group, one of the country's largest power producers. The merger created the world's largest power utility.

China's rapid expansion in nuclear power capacity will see it overtake the U.S. as the world's largest nuclear generator by 2026, Fitch subsidiary BMI Research said in January 2017.

Oil and gas group BP has predicted China's nuclear power generation will grow by 11% per year out to 2035, and account for nearly three-quarters of the global increase in nuclear generation.

"This is roughly equivalent to China introducing a new reactor every three months for the next 20 years," BP said in its 2017 Annual Energy Outlook.

In comparison, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has predicted China will account for around half the global growth in nuclear power out to 2040.

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