Nuclear hydrogen initiative launched; Global generation up in 2021

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Hydrogen produced from emission free sources is being slated as the key to a net zero future (Source: Reuters/Thilo Schmuelgen)

More than 40 global participants announced the formation of the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative (NHI) in July, a coalition that aims to engage policymakers, businesses, investors, and other key stakeholders to raise awareness of the role nuclear power can play in hydrogen production.  

Studies have found that nuclear power operators can mitigate high costs by fitting plants to produce hydrogen as the gas is increasingly seen as an essential fuel to power a carbon-free economy.

The NHI, which includes academics, government bodies, non-government organizations, advanced reactor developers, nuclear and hydrogen supply chain operators, will facilitate the development of nuclear hydrogen demonstrations, engage the financial sector, catalyze commercial partnerships, and advocate for policies that support nuclear hydrogen development, it said in a statement.

“Hydrogen has an important role to play in a decarbonized global energy system, and we can unlock massive opportunities to quickly scale it by leveraging nuclear energy,” said Elina Teplinsky, Partner and nuclear energy and hydrogen expert at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

“But there is much work to be done to engender policy support, foster commercial partnerships, address technical issues, and craft financing models for nuclear hydrogen projects.”

The NHI launched with its first report, ‘Hydrogen Production from Carbon-Free Nuclear Energy: Overview of Current Policies and Recommendations for Government Actions.”

Global nuclear power generation up in 2021

Nuclear reactors generated 2,653 TWh of power in 2021, up 100 TWh from 2020 and the third largest total ever after 2,657 TWh in 2019 and 2,660 TWh in 2006, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said in the World Nuclear Performance Report 2022, released in July.

The uptick reestablishes the upward trend in nuclear power generation seen since 2012 after a pandemic-related decline in 2020, the WNA said.

“However, this positive development must be put into the context of the upheaval there has been in global energy supply over the last 12 months,” WNA Director General Sama Bilbao y León said in the preface to the report.

A surge in energy demand following the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more reliance on fossil fuels, Bilbao y León said.

“While such short-term actions may be necessary in the midst of a crisis, they are unsustainable. It is therefore welcome that many governments are now realizing that nuclear energy can propel the drive to net-zero emissions and be the foundation of a more secure energy system,” she said.  

The total capacity of nuclear producing electricity in 2021 was 370 GWe, up 1 GWe from 2020 and the highest ever total capacity of reactors generating electricity in one year.

The total number of operable reactors, meanwhile, dropped to 436 in 2021, down from 441 a year earlier. Nearly 70% of those were pressurized water reactors (PWR).

All bar one of the 34 reactors to have started up between 2017 and 2021 were PWRs, the WNA said.

Of the 436 reactors worldwide, 144 were in Asia, 113 in North America, and 119 in West and Central Europe.

The global average capacity factor was 82.4% in 2021, up from 80.3% in 2020.

Westinghouse, EDF to explore ATFs

Westinghouse Electric Company and French utility EDF have announced a joint venture to explore the functionalities of Westinghouse’s EnCore enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) technology, the companies said in a statement.

Westinghouse, in the largest research and development program on enhanced fuel that it has conducted in Europe to date, will study its EnCore fuel in an EDF reactor for potential deployment across the EDF nuclear fleet from 2030, Westinghouse said.

The initiative includes the licensing, qualification, fabrication, delivery, and operation of assemblies with Lead Test Rods (LTR), which it will deliver from its facility in Västerås, Sweden by 2023, in an EDF 1,300 MWe reactor.

Westinghouse will also conduct a post-irradiation exam to verify the enhanced accident tolerance features in EDF’s reactors under operating conditions, it said.

“We are delighted to collaborate with EDF in this development program and highly value EDF’s proactiveness and engagement in this critical, long-term effort,” said Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel Tarik Choho.

X-Energy selects constructors for U.S. fleet

X-Energy has picked Zachry Group and the combined team of Burns & McDonnell and Day & Zimmermann as constructors to collaborate and work with the company on the next phase of design and development of its Xe-100 advanced reactor fleet, Zachry said in a press release in July.

X-Energy was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) in 2020 to deliver a four-unit Xe-100 plant in Washington state, the first operational grid-scale advanced reactor plant in the United States.

The Xe-100 is a next generation, high-temperature gas reactor engineered to operate as a single 80 MW electrical unit and is optimized as a four-unit plant delivering 320 MW electric.

“We will collaborate and work side-by-side with these firms to ensure the successful design and delivery of the first and subsequent Xe-100 deployments. This is one of the ways X-energy is leading the new age of nuclear energy, enabling us to deploy safely, with a more cost-effective delivery model for the benefit of our customers,” CEO of X-Energy Clay Sell said.  

By Reuters Events Nuclear