South Africa delays nuclear build; US Justice Department blocks waste merger

Nuclear power news you need to know.

South Africa nuclear build delayed to 2030s

South Africa has delayed plans to build new nuclear plants to the 2030's, according to updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) documents published by the energy ministry on November 22.

The government now predicts 1.4 GW of new nuclear capacity will come online in 2037, followed by a further 1.4 GW in 2039 and a further 4.1 GW in 2041, in its base-case new build scenario.

South Africa relies heavily on coal-fired power generation and the government had backed a plan to build up to 9.6 GW of nuclear power capacity with commissioning of the first new reactor expected in the 2020s. However, the government has been under pressure to improve the state finances, including those of national power utility Eskom.

High-level corruption is also a concern in South Africa and Brian Molefe resigned his role of CEO of Eskom on November 11 following the release of a report by the graft ombudsman into the influence of the wealthy Gupta family in South African state affairs and the state-owned utility.

South Africa's nuclear power plans are under pressure from rising renewable energy capacity and plans for gas-fired units. The cost of wind and solar power has fallen dramatically since South Africa launched its renewable energy procurement program (REIPPPP) in 2011.

                               South Africa's latest new build forecast

Source: Energy ministry's Integrated Resource Plan Update Assumptions and Base Case (November 2016).

China's SNPTC, France's EDF, Russia's Rosatom, South Korea's KEPCO, and the US' Westinghouse had been expected to be invited to submit nuclear plant proposals, World Nuclear News reported earlier this year.

Eskom has submitted two Nuclear Installation Site Licence (NISL) applications at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape and Duynefontein in the Western Cape, the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) said in March.

Eskom currently operates two 900 MW reactors at the Koeberg nuclear plant complex near Cape Town, commissioned in 1984-85.

Department of Justice opposes nuclear waste merger

U.S. decommissioning group EnergySolutions and investment firm Valhi plan to "vigorously defend" EnergySolutions' planned acquisition of Valhi subsidiary Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) after the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit seeking to block the transaction on competition grounds, EnergySolutions said in a statement November 16.

In November 2015, Valhi agreed to sell its 100% ownership of WCS to EnergySolutions at a price of $250 million plus $20 million stock. The deal would also see EnergySolutions take on WCS debt of around $77 million.

EnergySolutions currently operates 50% of active U.S. commercial decommissioning sites, providing a wide range of decommissioning services including dismantling, nuclear materials management and disposal.

WCS operates a low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) facility in West Texas and has submitted a license application to build the U.S.' first Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF).

The DOJ has contended that the combined company would be the only option for operators in nearly 40 states.

In its response statement, EnergySolutions said there are numerous disposal sites for LLRW waste operated by competitors of EnergySolutions and WCS.

The company also noted that operators have the option of storing waste on site.

Innovation and price declines in LLRW disposal, cited by the DOJ, "are in fact evidence of other competitors in the marketplace," it said.

Swiss reject accelerated closure proposal

Switzerland has rejected a proposal to close its nuclear power plants after 45 years of operations.

In a national referendum held on November 22, 55% of the population rejected the proposal by the Green Party which would have closed three of Switzerland's five nuclear plants next year.

The five nuclear plants have a combined capacity of 3.4 GW generate around 40% of Switzerland's electricity.

                      Switzerland's nuclear power plants

Source: World Nuclear Association

Nuclear experts seek changes to SMR licensing process

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must evolve its regulation for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and governments must provide financial support to propel reactor development towards demonstration models, nuclear industry think tank Global Nexus Initiative (GNI) said in a new report.

An estimated $1.3 billion of private funding has been invested in early SMR development but further investment is required and the government should provide a cost sharing private-public partnership to support projects through the demonstration phase, GNI said in a new policy report on advanced nuclear reactor deployment.

"Governments can demonstrate political encouragement by providing facilities, expertise and possibly some financial support and the private sector can contribute to the technology demonstration, assess the most promising reactor concepts, and drive the process according to market demands," the think tank said.

The NRC must evolve its licensing process for SMR technologies by engaging with developers in a multi-stage process providing useful feedback as the design is developed and demonstrated, GNI said.

"This will encourage continued private investment and allow for the down-selection of the most promising and mature technologies," it said.

International initiatives such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Multinational Design and Evaluation Programme (MDEP) must also contribute by developing international licensing standards for advanced reactors, according to GNI.

The international market advanced reactors must also be "realistically assessed" and operators must establish required reactor characteristics and costs to provide more clarity on deployment potential, it said.

Nuclear Energy Insider