UAE’s Barakah gains operating license; GE Hitachi signs MOU for Czech SMR

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Barakah has been granted its operating license and fuel loading has begun.

UAE’s Barakah gains operating license

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has issued an operating license for the Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi.

The plant, being built by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), was originally due to begin operations in 2017 but the start-up of its first reactor has been delayed.

Hamad al-Kaabi, deputy chairman of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) told a news conference that a 60-year operating licence will be granted to Nawah Energy Company.

Agneta Rising, Director General, World Nuclear Association commented, “This is a big step towards the start-up of Barakah, which will soon supply clean and reliable electricity to the UAE for generations to come.”

When all four units at Barakah are complete the plant will supply 5,600 megawatts of electricity, meeting up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs.

The UAE Energy Plan for 2050 is targeting an energy mix that combines renewable, nuclear and other clean energy sources to meet the UAE’s economic requirements and environmental goals.

With the operating license granted Nawah, the plant’s operator, has begun the process of fuel loading, where 241 fuel assemblies will be lowered by crane into position in the reactor vessel.

Al-Kaabi added that construction of the plant's second reactor was 95 percent complete and that FANR had started looking into an operating license. Christer Viktorsson, director-general of FANR, said Nawah can start initial power production by May or June of this year.

GE Hitachi signs MOU for Czech SMR

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and ČEZ have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to examine the feasibility of constructing a BWRX-300 SMR in the Czech Republic.

“This agreement is the latest example of the growing global interest in our breakthrough SMR technology,” said Jon Ball, Executive Vice President of Nuclear Products for GEH. “Because of our unique, design-to-cost approach, we believe the BWRX-300 is ideally positioned to help the Czech Republic meet a growing demand for affordable, clean, carbon-free energy.”

“As a company, we are focused on developing new energy solutions and technologies,” said Daniel Beneš, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of ČEZ. “We are already engaged with the development of small modular reactors, especially in our daughter company ÚJV Řež. The SMRs can be a significant alternative in the future that we cannot ignore. The collaboration with GE Hitachi is therefore a logical step for us.”

ČEZ operates two nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic which generate approximately one-third of the country’s electricity. The Czech government plans substituting coal plants with new nuclear build and renewables in the near future.

The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled SMR that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s US NRC-certified ESBWR. Through design simplification, GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW when compared to other water-cooled SMR designs or existing large nuclear reactor designs.

By leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification, utilizing licensed and proven nuclear fuel designs, incorporating proven components and supply chains and implementing simplification innovations the BWRX-300 can, GEH believes, become cost-competitive with power generation from combined cycle gas plants and renewable energy platforms.

US hopes to re-establish uranium supply chain

The US Administration’s 2021 budget has requested $150 million to set up a uranium reserve to address production and supply issues. The funding would support the operation of at least two domestic uranium mines, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

The uranium reserve funding forms part of $1.3 billion requested for the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, which also includes $295 million for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project. The Office of Nuclear Energy would begin the procurement process for the reserve in fiscal 2021.

"This action addresses immediate challenges to the production of domestic uranium and reflects the Administration's Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) priorities," the budget request noted. "The NFWG will continue to evaluate issues related to uranium supply chain and fuel supply."

The DOE request does not contain any allocation for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository for used nuclear fuel. However, the Yucca Mountain project is covered in the Interim Storage and Nuclear Waste Fund Oversight programme where $28 million has been requested.

The US Congress will now consider the budget bills before becoming law before the start of the next fiscal year.

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