Marvel, CSU to build laser fusion facility; groups call on NRC to finalize reactor rules

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High-density laser-created plasma physics research at Colorado State University’s Laboratory for Advanced Lasers and Extreme Photonics. (Source: CSU Photography)

German company Marvel Fusion and the U.S.’s Colorado State University (CSU) have reached a joint accord worth $150 million to build a laser facility in Fort Collins through a public-private partnership, the company said in a statement.

The facility will house some of the world’s most powerful lasers and will be an international epicenter for research into laser fusion energy and high energy density physics, Marvel said.

“This public-private partnership sets the global standard for laser-based fusion research, propelling the development of a safe, clean, and reliable energy source. It is an incredible step forward for Marvel Fusion and a testament to our success and vision,” says CEO of Marvel Fusion Moritz von de Linden.

“Working with the world-class team at CSU over the past two years has been invaluably productive. We are immensely grateful for the trust and support of CSU, the State of Colorado, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s ongoing support through the LaserNetUS program.”

The project will feature at least three laser systems, each with a multi-petawatt peak power and an ultra-fast repetition rate of ten flashes per second, it said.

The facility is expected to be completed by 2026.

Separately, physicists and engineers at the U.S. National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have achieved net energy gain in a nuclear fusion reaction for the second time since the first breakthrough in December, according to preliminary results, a spokesperson at the LLNL told Reuters Events Nuclear.

The laboratory would not confirm reports that the July 30 experiment produced a higher yield than the December test, saying analysis of the results were underway.

“As is our standard practice, we plan on reporting those results at upcoming scientific conferences and in peer-reviewed publications,” the spokesperson said.

Groups call on NRC to finalize rules

Pro-nuclear groups have penned a joint letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) calling for the final decision on a rulemaking that will detail emergency preparedness requirements for small modular and advanced reactors.

Delays to reaching an agreement on the rulemaking, ‘Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies,’ is creating significant regulatory uncertainty for multiple developers that are actively preparing license applications, the letter said.

The letter was sent on behalf of the Breakthrough Institute, Clean Air Task Force, ClearPath, Nuclear Innovation Alliance, and Third Way.

Decision on the rule have been delayed numerous times without explanation and the current forecast for the publication of the final rule on January 3, 2024 would mean a duration of over two years since the rule was submitted to the NRC for approval, it said.

Without a decision, any future applicants wanting to benefit from the improved procedures in the rule must now prepare two emergency preparedness plans: one based on the assumption that the rule will be in effect when they submit their applications and another contingency plan in case the rule is not yet finalized,” the letter said.

“Furthermore, this creates an additional burden on the NRC staff due to the uncertainty in the regulatory framework.”

The delay reduces the value of pre-application engagement, both for the applicant and the NRC staff, which discourages pre-application engagement from future applicants, it said.

Up 12 SMRs planned for Washington

Utility Energy Northwest and advanced nuclear reactor developer X-Energy Reactor Company have signed a joint development agreement (JDA) for up to 12 Xe-100 advanced small modular reactors (SMRs) in central Washington, X-Energy said in a statement.

Energy Northwest expects to bring the first Xe-100 module online by 2030, it said.

The Xe-100 project is expected to be developed at a site controlled by Energy Northwest adjacent to Columbia Generation Station in Richland, it said.

The companies will jointly work on developing best approaches to licensing and regulation, as well as the project delivery model.

“Energy Northwest’s mission is to provide the region with clean, reliable and affordable electricity, and X-energy’s innovative advanced reactor technology will be a valuable addition to our existing portfolio of carbon-free electric generating resources,” said Bob Schuetz, CEO of Energy Northwest.

The Xe-100 is an 80 MWe high temperature gas-cooled reactor which can be scalable to a 320 MWe four pack or can provide 200 MWth of high-temperature steam.

Global nuclear generation falls in 2022

Total global electricity generated by nuclear power fell slightly in 2022 from a year earlier due to shutdowns in Germany and Ukraine and repairs in France, the World Nuclear Organization (WNO) said in its ‘World Nuclear Performance Report 2023’.

Nuclear reactors generated a total of 2,545 TWh in 2022, down 108 TWh from 2,653 TWh in 2021, the report said.

Three events in Europe contributed to the year-on-year fall in generation, the WNO said, including a program of welding repairs and other outages in France, the closure of three of Germany’s remaining six reactors at the end of 2021, and the shutting down of the six units in the Ukraine Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station due to the war with Russia.

Nuclear generation increased by 37 TWh in Asia in 2021 from a year earlier and has now overtaken nuclear generation in West & Central Europe, the WNO said.  

By Reuters Events Nuclear