Scientists warn 20% of US nuclear capacity at risk; Toshiba liquidates UK new build company

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The Diabolo Canyon reactors in California are among 13 U.S. reactors set to close in 2018-2025 and many more could follow. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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Scientists say 20% of US nuclear capacity unprofitable or set to close

More than one third of operational U.S. nuclear plants, representing 20% of nuclear capacity, are unprofitable or scheduled to close, the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) said in a report published November 8.

Nuclear operators face continuing pressure from low wholesale electricity prices, driven by low gas prices and rising renewable energy capacity. The states of New Jersey, New York and Illinois have introduced support mechanisms for nuclear plants but much wider support is required to prevent a hike in carbon emissions, UCS said.

In May, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) said more than a quarter of U.S. nuclear power plants do not earn enough revenue to cover costs.

For the period 2018-22, projected operating costs exceed revenues at 21 U.S. nuclear plants representing 22.7 GW, including five plants scheduled for retirement, UCS said in its report.

The average cost of bringing unprofitable plants to breakeven is $814 million per year, it said.

Some 10 of the 21 plants are merchant plants, representing 10.5 GW of capacity, including four that are set to close and six that have a "higher risk of closing in the future," UCS said.

Of the 11 regulated plants identified at risk, one plant is already slated to close by 2025, it said.

"Eight additional plants are marginally profitable (15 GW), including five merchant plants (9.8 GW) and three regulated plants (5.2 GW)," the scientists' group said.

Of the 30 states which host nuclear power plants, 17 states have capacity that is unprofitable or scheduled to close, it said.

               US nuclear plants at risk of closure or set for closure

                                                          (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), November 2018.

The replacement of unprofitable and marginal at-risk plants with fossil fuel capacity could hike power sector emissions by 4 to 6 %, UCS said.

Toshiba winds up Moorside UK new build project

Toshiba is to liquidate NuGen, it's 100% owned UK subsidiary that has been developing the 3.8 MW Moorside nuclear new build project in Cumbria, the Japanese group announced November 8.

Toshiba has been looking to sell NuGen following the bankruptcy of its Westinghouse subsidiary which prompted billions in write-downs. In January 2018, Toshiba agreed to sell Westinghouse to investment group Brookfield Business Partners for $4.6 billion.

Toshiba has been unable to find a buyer for NuGen, despite talks with Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) and an exploration of a sale to Brookfield.

"After considering the additional costs entailed in continuing to operate NuGen, Toshiba recognizes that the economically rational decision is to withdraw from the UK nuclear power plant construction project, and has resolved to take steps to wind-up NuGen," Toshiba said.

A senior government figure told the Financial Times that there were still hopes the Moorside site could still be salvaged under new ownership but he was "not optimistic" about its future.

EDF and Chinese partners are currently building the 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C EPR plant in Somerset, the first new nuclear plant in the UK for decades.

The cost of Hinkley Point C has spiralled to around 20 billion pounds ($25.8 billion) and the plant is scheduled online from 2025. EDF also plans to build a 3.2 GW plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

Hitachi aims to build a 2.9 GW plant using its advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR) design at Wylfa Newydd in Wales. The plant could be online by the mid-2020s and followed by another 2.9 GW plant at the site, according to the company.

China General Nuclear Power (CGN) also plans to build a new plant at Bradwell in Essex, using its Hualong HPR1000 design.

Canada SMR roadmap calls for federal support to deploy by 2030

Canada could deploy its first commercial SMRs by 2030 if sufficient federal funding and regulatory support is provided, the Canadian Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Roadmap Steering Committee said in its long-awaited SMR roadmap, published November 7.

The report follows a 10-month engagement of industry, governments, utilities and other interested parties.

Federal and provincial governments should provide funding on a cost-share basis for the construction of one or more advanced SMR demonstration projects, the committee said in their report.

The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has designated SMR technology as a research priority and aims to host a demonstration SMR plant by 2026.

Federal and provincial governments should also implement measures to share risks for the first commercial deployment of SMRs in Canada by 2030, the committee said.

The federal government should adapt Canada's federal impact assessment process to align it with other SMR deployment initiatives, and review nuclear liability regulations to ensure limits for SMRs are aligned with the risks they pose, it said.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) should engage with industry, the public, and indigenous representatives to implement an appropriate risk-informed approach to safety regulations, the report said.

The federal government should also work with industry and academic institutions to develop "international enabling frameworks" for SMR technologies, it said.

"All other major nuclear nations are making strategic investments in order to position their domestic industries to capitalize on the opportunity. Early action on demonstration and deployment in Canada will be important to keep innovation opportunities and investment from moving abroad," the committee said.

Canada's federal government has welcomed the roadmap and is now reviewing its recommendations.

"The roadmap includes recommendations that will help inform ongoing collaboration among federal, provincial and territorial governments — as well as other stakeholders and Indigenous communities — to ensure Canada becomes a global leader in the development of this new technology," Amarjeet Sohi, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, said in a statement.

Ontario Power Generation to support NuScale vendor design review

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has agreed to support NuScale's pre-licensing vendor design review (VDR) for its IPWR SMR reactor, NuScale announced November 7.

Oregon's NuScale is currently working on a service agreement for its VDR application to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The developer plans to go directly to phase 2 of the VDR process, which assesses new technologies for any potential fundamental barriers to licensing.

Last month, Terrestrial Energy became the first SMR developer to enter phase 2 and this stage is expected to take around two years, it said.

NuScale is the only SMR developer to have filed a full design licence application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and aims to complete the process by September 2020. The company plans to build a 720 MW commercial plant in Idaho for utility group Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) by 2026.

OPG operates some 6.6 GW of nuclear power capacity in Canada and was already a member of NuScale's advisory board. OPG will support the VDR process and will also help evaluate development and deployment opportunities in Canada.

OPG would consider a range of roles in SMR deployment in Canada, including owner-operator and operator-only models, Jeff Lehman, Vice President, New Nuclear Development - ‎Ontario Power Generation, told Nuclear Energy Insider in May.

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