New Jersey lawmakers agree nuclear subsidies; EDF finds welding issues at new French reactor

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

New Jersey to provide nuclear price support

The U.S. state of New Jersey passed bills April 12 which provide nuclear power generators with price support and sets a target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.

Under the new legislation, nuclear plants operating beyond 2030 will be issued zero emissions certificates (ZECs) for every megawatt-hour produced. Eligible plants will include Public Service Enterprise Group's (PSEG's) 1.2 GW Hope Creek plant and the 2.3 GW Salem plant, owned by PSEG and Exelon. The estimated annual value of the subsidy is $300 million.

New Jersey's nuclear subsidies follow on from similar support mechanisms introduced in the states of New York and Illinois. Nuclear operators face continuing pressure from low wholesale electricity prices, driven by low gas prices and rising renewable energy capacity. U.S. operators have announced closures of 18 reactors at 14 sites over the last five years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

In February, Exelon announced it would close its 636 MW Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey in October 2018, which makes it ineligible for the support.

New Jersey lawmakers also passed April 12 a bill which sets a target of 35% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, rising to 50% by 2030.

The New Jersey bills passed by a wide margin in the Assembly and the Senate and must be signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy, who is reportedly in favor of nuclear energy.

"I believe the biggest bridge we have to our clean energy future are the nukes and, not to mention, the thousands of jobs they support," he told the New York Times in an interview.

Cost impact of Ohio, Pennsylvania closures estimated at $1.5 billion

The accelerated closures of nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania could raise electricity costs in the PJM market area by as much as $1.5 billion, Brattle consultancy group said in a new report commissioned by the Nuclear Matters website.

FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 31 as the FirstEnergy group looks to restructure its business while continuing to seek federal support to continue operating nuclear and coal plant assets.

FENOC owns and operates three nuclear power plants in unregulated PJM markets--the 890 MW David Besse and 1.3 GW Perry nuclear plants in Ohio and the 1.9 GW Beaver Valley plant in Pennsylvania.

Last year, Exelon said it would retire its 852 MW Three Mile Island Generating Station (TMI) in Pennsylvania in September 2019 in the absence of government support.

The closure of the FirstEnergy and Exelon plants could increase Ohio electricity costs by as much as $400 million while costs in Pennsylvania could rise by $285 million, the Brattle group said in its report.

If the plants are closed, zero-emission power generation in the PJM area would not return to 2017 levels until 2032, based on renewable energy growth at the current rate, it said.

The four nuclear plants provide around 39 TWh of zero-emission energy each year, while wind and solar generation across PJM provided about 26 TWh in 2017, the Brattle group said.

                         Output of Ohio, Pennsylvania reactors
                                                          (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Brattle group

EDF to check 150 welds at Flamanville-3 after quality issues found

France's EDF has launched additional checks on 150 welds within the main secondary system of the 1.65 GW Flamanville-3 EPR plant project after finding "quality deviations" on the welding of pipes, the company announced April 10.

The Flamanville-3 plant is currently scheduled to perform fuel loading in the fourth quarter of 2018 and commence commercial operation soon after. The construction cost target is currently 10.5 billion euros ($13.0 billion).

EDF will produce a report on the causes and nature of the deviations by the end of May, in order to define corrective actions that will ensure regulatory approval, the state-controlled company said.

Following this report, EDF will specify whether the timetable and cost of the project is impacted. The project is already several years behind schedule.

The latest quality deviations were found during the "initial comprehensive inspection" – a regulatory requirement prior to the plant’s start up.

"In accordance with industrial procedures, the welds had been controlled by the consortium of contractors in charge of manufacturing the system," EDF said in a statement.

"Each weld had been declared compliant as it was realized," it said.

On April 3, EDF completed pressure tests on the reactor building, confirming the building's design and resistance.

Switzerland raises nuclear decommissioning costs to $25.6 billion

The Swiss government's cost estimate for the decommissioning of Switzerland's five nuclear power stations has risen by 1.1 billion Swiss francs ($1.1 billion) to 24.6 billion Swiss francs ($25.6 billion), the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation reported April 12.

In 2011, Switzerland decided to phase out nuclear power, although exact closure dates are yet to be announced. Switzerland's nuclear plants have a combined capacity of 3.3 GW and generate around 35% of the country's electricity.

                         Switzerland's nuclear power plants

Source: World Nuclear Association (WNA)

The decommissioning cost estimates rose after the government removed expected savings from Swiss regions joining forces to dispose of waste, the report said.

"These savings have been stripped out of the revised budget as no concrete plans have been laid down as to how to achieve this," it said.

The latest cost estimates include 3.8 billion Swiss francs towards dismantling costs and 20.8 billion Swiss francs for the disposal of radioactive waste.

Bruce Power signs SMR research deal with mining academics

Canadian power generator Bruce Power, MIRARCO Mining Innovation and Laurentian University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to research energy solutions in remote regions, including small modular reactors (SMRs), the partners said in a statement April 6.

MIRARCO (Mining Innovation Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation) is a not-for-profit research corporation which develops innovative solutions for the mining industry.

The MoU includes $1 million in funding over five years for an Industrial Chair position at MIRARCO, which will research opportunities in SMRs and other sustainable and clean energy solutions for mining operators in northern Ontario.

Bruce Power is to co-chair a regulatory readiness working group for SMR technologies as part of the Canadian government's new SMR roadmap, Mike Rencheck, President and CEO of Bruce Power, told Nuclear Energy Insider last month.

"As part of the industry's roadmap we will look at the value proposition for different types of SMR technology categories, then we will form that case," he said.

Canada's SMR roadmap, launched by the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources (NRCan) in February, will study the potential for on-grid and off-grid applications for small modular reactor (SMR) technology in Canada. Stakeholder engagement will inform a roadmap for SMR development which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.

The initial phase will involve a consultation of utilities, regional governments and public groups to better understand the priorities and challenges of the deployment of SMRs in Canada. Participation in the roadmap will then be expanded to other stakeholders including manufacturers, research groups, waste management organizations and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

Nuclear Energy Insider