SMR companies picked for UK project; Vogtle 2 cleared to use ATF

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One of two 'nuclear islands' at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in southwest England (Source: Reuters/Toby Melville)

Six small modular reactor companies have been picked by the British government to progress to the next round of a competitive bid for contracts later this year, the government said in a statement.

The companies chosen are EDF, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy International LLC, Holtec Britain Limited, NuScale Power, Rolls Royce SMR and Westinghouse Electric Company UK Limited.

The SMR designs were chosen as the most able to deliver cutting-edge technology by mid-30s as part of the government’s plan to revive nuclear power, the statement said.

Contract winners will be announced in spring 2024 and contracts awarded in the summer, it said.

The timetable aims to make the competition the fastest of its kind in the world, the government said.

“Small Modular Reactors will help the UK rapidly expand nuclear power and deliver cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy for British families and businesses, create well-paid, high-skilled jobs, and grow the economy,” Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said.

The government’s objective has been to select technologies which offer the greatest confidence in being able to make a final investment decision in 2029 and be operational in the mid-2030s, it said.

Vogtle 2 to use AFT

Southern Nuclear’s Vogtle Unit 2 has received first-of-a-kind approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to use advanced fuel, or Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF), Southern Nuclear said in a statement.

ATF exceeds 5% enrichment of uranium-235, up to 6%, underscoring the industry’s efforts to optimize fuel and enable increased fuel efficiency and long-term affordability for nuclear power plants, it said.

The company signed an accord in 2022 with Westinghouse to load four lead test assemblies (LTAs) with next-generation fuel features into Plant Vogtle’s Unit 2 including ADOPTTM uranium dioxide pellets, AXIOMTIM fuel rod cladding and chromium-coated cladding combined with Westinghouse’s advanced PRIMETM fuel assembly design.

Following NRC approval, Southern Nuclear and Westinghouse will manufacture the first-of-a-kind fuel assemblies which they plan to install early 2025.

“Members of Congress and the Department of Energy have demonstrated their deep understanding of the positive impacts of Accident Tolerant Fuel, and their support has been critical to our ability to advance fuel technology with higher burnup rates,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel. 

The authorization is a component of a broader LTA program that will demonstrate performance of advanced fuel assemblies developed by Westinghouse with significant support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s enhanced ATF program, Southern said.

TVO eyes LTO for Olkiluoto

Finish nuclear power company Toellisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) has begun an environmental impact assessment procedure to potentially extend the operating license and a potential power uprating of its Olkiluoto 1 (OL1) and Olkiluoto 2 (OL2) plant units.

The units, with OL1 commissioned in 1978 and OL2 in 1980, are currently licensed until 2028.

Annual investments of around 50 million euros ($53) in the plant have enabled power increases to a nominal power level of 890 MW from an original capacity of 660 MW.

“Extending the lifespan would support domestic year-round and weather-independent electricity production as well as Finland's and Europe's climate goals, says Marjo Mustonen, TVO's Director of Electricity Production.

TVO is also looking at opportunities of uprating the power of the two reactors by 80 MW each, bringing power levels up to 970 MW, the company said.

IAEA raises nuclear growth forecasts

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has raised its nuclear power global growth projections for the third straight year as part of its annual report ‘Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050’.

The IAEA now sees a quarter more nuclear energy capacity installed by 2050 than it did in 2020, as more countries looking to nuclear to address the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic development, the agency said.

The report was presented during the opening of the IAEA’s 2nd International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power 2023: Atoms4NetZero in Vienna.

“Climate change is a big driver, but so is security of energy supply,” Director General Mariano Grossi said of the improved outlook.

“Many countries are extending the lifetime of their existing reactors, considering or launching construction of advanced reactor designs and looking into small modular reactors (SMRs), including for applications beyond the production of electricity.”

In the high case scenario, nuclear installed capacity is seen more than doubling by 2050 to 890 GWe compared to today’s 369 GWe while in the low case, capacity will increase to 458 GWe, the report said.

From last year’s outlook, the high and low cases have risen by 2% and 15% respectively, the IAEA said.

The high case projections to 2050 have increased by 178 GWe, or 24%, since the 2020 outlook, while the low case projections have grown by about 26% in the last three years, the agency said.

By Reuters Events Nuclear