NRC issues rules towards faster decommissioning; UK MPs slam Hinkley Point negotiations

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

US regulator issues basis for faster decommissioning procedures

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued the regulatory basis for new rules which streamline decommissioning regulation, in particular reducing the requirement for exemptions and license amendments in the transition to decommissioning, NRC said November 27. The regulator will publish the proposed rules in 2018, it said.

A recent spate of early U.S. plant closures has increased the need for a swift implementation of new decommissioning regulations which match post-operation risk profiles. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), existing regulations do not adequately recognize lower risk profiles during the period when a power reactor permanently ceases operation, defuels, and decommissions.

Under the current regulation, the exemption process typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete, requiring spending of more than $1.5 million, with additional operator costs of $1 million per month, NEI has said.

The NRC's regulatory basis concludes there is "sufficient justification to proceed with new regulations in the areas of emergency preparedness, physical security, cyber security, drug and alcohol testing, training requirements for certified fuel handlers, decommissioning trust funds, financial protection requirements and indemnity agreements, and application of the backfit rule," the NRC said.

NRC staff have also recommended clarifying requirements on spent fuel management and environmental reporting, the regulator said. The NRC also plans to address certain issues through updated guidance or inspection procedures, including the role of state and local government in the decommissioning process, staffing requirements, and ageing management of certain plant systems, structures and components, it said.

                          US nuclear decommissioning projects

The NRC issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for decommissioning plants back in November 2015. The regulator then published a draft regulatory basis in March 2017.

Dominion to extend lifespan of North Anna plant to 80 years

Dominion Energy has notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) it intends to extend the licences for its 1.9 GW North Anna power plant in Louisa County for an additional 20-years, increasing the lifespan to 80 years, the company said November 13.

Dominion Energy intends to file a licence renewal application for the two reactors at North Anna in 2020. In 2015, the company notified NRC it would file similar licence applications for its 1.7 GW Surry power plant in the spring of 2019.

Dominion Energy expects to invest up to $4 billion on upgrades at North Anna and Surry as part of the relicensing process, it said.

"The planned relicensing of North Anna and Surry ensures that the benefits of these clean energy sources will continue to provide affordable, reliable, carbon-free electricity to our customers through the middle of the century," Daniel G. Stoddard, Chief Nuclear Officer for Dominion's nuclear generation division, said in a statement.

"Our nuclear power stations have proven to be among the most-efficient and most-reliable sources of electricity in our fleet," he said.

Dominion Energy also operates the 2 GW Millstone nuclear plant in Connecticut.

On October 31, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill which paves the way for the Millstone plant to bid for zero carbon energy contracts, providing Dominion Energy responds to information requests on power plant costs.

“I sign this legislation with the hope that Dominion will work in partnership with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection [DEEP] and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority [PURA] to provide the necessary information to complete an accurate assessment of Millstone,” Malloy said.

In an earlier letter to the Governor, DEEP and PURA said that, absent Dominion providing full disclosure of requested financial information, an analysis by Levitan & and Associates Inc (LAI) shows that the Millstone plant is expected to be “highly profitable” through 2035, the expiration of the license for Millstone Unit 2.

"As such, there is unlikely to be a basis upon which to conclude at this time that Dominion requires electric ratepayers to provide financial support outside the regional market in order for Millstone to continue operating profitably," LAI told the Governor.

"The importance of this asset to both the state and the region cannot be overstated. If we are to realize the goals set out by this legislation, there is more work to be done," Malloy said.

UK MPs slam government's negotiation of Hinkley point C

A UK cross-party Parliamentary committee has criticized the government's negotiation of the contract for the 3.2 GW Hinkley point C nuclear power plant, led by EDF and expected online from 2025.

In a new report published November 22, the UK cross-party House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said the government should have done more to minimize the costs of the Hinkley Point C project to UK taxpayers and ensure the benefits are felt across UK industry.

"The [UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] does not know to what extent UK workers and companies will benefit from Hinkley Point C and the wider follow-on new nuclear program, and has no plan in place to show how it will maximize the wider benefits of the project," the committee said in its report.

The MPs also criticized the government for not assessing the costs and risks of the deal to consumers beyond 2030, given the contract with EDF and its Chinese partners spans 35 years.

"By March 2018, the [government] should tell us how it will ensure there is an independent and transparent assessment of the impacts on consumers, including the impacts on the poorest households, when agreeing future energy infrastructure deals that are paid for through consumers’ bills," the report said.

Earlier this year, EDF increased the estimated cost of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant project by 8.3% to 19.6 billion pounds ($26.1 billion). EDF's latest cost estimates factor in a "better understanding of the design adapted to the requirements of the British regulators, the volume and sequencing of work on site and the gradual implementation of supplier contracts," the company said in a statement.

In its report, the Parliamentary committee criticized the government for not renegotiating the Hinkley point C after it agreed provisional terms in 2013, given rising construction cost estimates and falling renewable energy costs.

"In particular, the [government] forecasts that consumers will now pay 30 billion pounds in top-up payments over the contract’s 35 years, five-times more than the 6 billion pounds it had expected in 2013," the committee said.

The UK government should "re-evaluate and publish its strategic case for supporting nuclear power before agreeing any further deals for nuclear power stations," it said.

The government also failed to sufficiently analyze alternative ways to finance the deal, including sharing the early stage project risk between the government and the developer rather than requiring the developer to bear all construction risks, the committee said.

The MPs also warned against future cost and schedule overruns and called on the government to publish a “Plan B” to achieve energy security and revise this plan on an annual basis.

The committee warned that the UK government has a poor track record on contract management and recommended the government ensures "on an ongoing basis" the construction partners have the skills, capacity and access rights to deliver the project effectively.

X-energy, Jordan to study advanced reactor deployment

U.S. advanced reactor developer X-energy has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) to assess the potential deployment of X-Energy's Xe-100 small modular reactor (SMR) in Jordan, X-energy said in a statement November 28.

The agreement comes the same month UK-based engineering group Rolls-Royce signed a MOU with JAEC for the construction of its SMR technology in Jordan.

While the Rolls-Royce SMR is based on light water reactor (LWR) technology, the Xe-100 is a 200 MWt (76 MWe) high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor. In parallel to reactor development, X-energy is developing TRISO-based fuel and plans to implement pilot fuel manufacturing capabilities from next year.

X-Energy's reactor and fuel activities are supported by $40 million of private investment and a five-year $53 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Concept Cooperative Agreement award.

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