UK seeks 2025 coal plant cut-off; US raises advanced tech funding; Finland approves deep storage facility

Nuclear power news you need to know.

The UK wants to restrict the use of unabated coal plants from 2023 and stop their use from 2025. (Image credit MichaelUtech)

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UK backs new nuclear in pledge to cut coal plant use

The UK government wants to close all unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025 and sees new nuclear power plants as key to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, energy secretary Amber Rudd announced November 18.

While the government has made new gas-fired power stations "a priority," it has also backed the development of new nuclear power capacity, including Small Modular Reactors, providing they can deliver electricity at low cost, the minister said.

"We are dealing with a legacy of under-investment and with Hinkley Point C planning to start generating in the mid-2020s, this is already changing," Rudd said.

“It is imperative we do not make the mistakes of the past and just build one nuclear power station. There are plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa and Moorside. It also means exploring new opportunities like Small Modular Reactors, which hold the promise of low cost, low carbon energy."

              UK power generation mix in 2014

Source: UK Department of Energy and Climate Change

A consultation on the coal plant closure plans will be published in the spring.

US increases loan guarantee funding for advanced nuclear

The US federal government is to increase its $12.5 billion loan guarantee funding program for innovative nuclear energy projects as part of a new range of measures supporting advanced reactor technology.

The loan guarantees from the Department of Energy (DoE) will also be applicable during the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), such as design certification, construction permits and combined construction and operating licences, the White House said in a statement November 6.

Eligible projects include the construction of advanced nuclear reactors, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), uprates and upgrades at existing facilities, and front-end nuclear facilities.

In addition, the White House announced the launch of a new Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program. GAIN will provide a single point of contact for companies through the DoE's clean Energy Investment Centre, a database of nuclear energy infrastructure equipment and companies, and further support from the DoE on the NRC’s regulations and licensing processes.

"DOE will work through GAIN with prospective applicants for advanced nuclear technology to understand and navigate the regulatory process for licensing new reactor technology," the government said.

NRC submits new decom rules to reduce exemption requests

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed new decommissioning rules to establish clear requirements for areas such as emergency preparedness, physical security and fitness for duty.

"By incorporating changes into regulation, the NRC believes the transition from operation to decommissioning can become more efficient and effective for both the agency and the licensee," the commission said in a statement November 19. It is hoped the new rules will lessen the need for exceptions from requirements designed for operating reactors.

NRC's proposed rules have been published in the Federal register and it will conduct a public meeting to discuss the draft regulatory basis and receive public comments.

The NRC began a similar rulemaking process in 2000-2001, but stopped after the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted a stronger focus on security.

The US has seen five of its reactors permanently shut since the beginning of 2013, and three more are expected to cease operations by 2019.

The five reactors undergoing decommissioning required several exemptions from NRC’s regulations for operating reactors to reflect their decommissioning status.

Finland approves first permanent underground waste depository

Finland has approved the construction of the world's first permanent underground nuclear waste storage facility, on Olkiluoto island.

Finland's government has granted Posiva Oy a licence to build a uranium storage facility of maximum capacity 6,500 tonnes, it said in a statement November 12.

Posiva has said construction can start towards the end of 2016 and plans to start operating the facility in 2023.

Olkiluoto island already hosts two operational 880 MW nuclear reactors, representing over half of Finland's 2.7 GW nuclear capacity.

A 1.6 GW EPR plant is being built on Olkiluoto island and is currently expected to be completed by the end of 2018. A 1.2 GW VVER plant is planned at Hanhikivi in northern Finland, expected online in 2024.

Posiva's facility will transfer spent nuclear fuel packed inside copper canisters down to a depth of 400-450 metres where it will be placed in deposition holes within the bentonite (clay) buffer.

In order to gain an operating licence for its facility, Posiva must submit analyses on the "environmental impacts of the facility, the retrievability of the spent nuclear fuel, the transport risks involved and any changes that may have been introduced into the project," the government said.

Ukraine to manufacture Holtec fuel casks for spent fuel facility

Ukraine's Turboatom is to manufacture and supply Holtec's HI-STORM 190 vertical ventilated casks, for Ukraine’s Central Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility due to be commissioned in 2018.

The initial installment of the Holtec order will consist of 94 casks.

Ukraine’s Central Storage Facility will store VVER fuel from the nation’s nine reactors.

Holtec’s President & CEO, Dr. Kris Singh, said the deal represented a major milestone in the firm's decade-long  quest to localize manufacturing in Ukraine.

Holtec has been seeking a high caliber manufacturing ally in Eastern Europe to serve Holtec’s growing business activities in the region.

Ontario's Central Huron seen as potential storage site

Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has assessed Central Huron, Ontario as a potential site for the country's first permanent nuclear waste storage facility and the site will be the focus of further study.

NWMO has now completed phase 1 of the preliminary assessment at 21 communities and is expected to take several years to select a preferred site under a consent-based process.

Under phase 2 of the preliminary assessment, local residents will be consulted to help refine the list of potentially suitable siting areas, a regional study will be carried out to explore the potential effects of well-being on the broader region. The phase 2 process will conclude with the identification of the sites eligible to proceed to the detailed evaluation and document findings stage.