Westinghouse, Kairos win $18mn of SMR funding; US reveals Saudi nuclear export approvals

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

Westinghouse, Kairos win bulk of DOE advanced reactor funding

Small modular reactor developers Westinghouse and Kairos Power were the main winners in the Department of Energy's (DOE) latest funding round for advanced reactor projects.

The DOE has allocated a total of $19 million to four nuclear technology projects, on a cost share basis.

Westinghouse will receive $12.9 million of DOE funds for the development of a demonstration version of its eVinci micro light water reactor (LWR).

Westinghouse aims to design, test, manufacture and site the demonstration unit by 2022 and the company will provide $15.7 million to the project, the DOE said.

Kairos will receive $5 million of DOE funds to accelerate the development of its fluoride salt-cooled, high temperature reactor (KP-FHR).

The funds will be used to accelerate critical advanced modelling and simulation capability through the DOE Nuclear Energy Advanced Modelling and Simulation (NEAMS) program. Kairos will provide $5.1 million to the program.

Kairos has also been awarded $500,000 of DOE funds to develop a mechanistic source term for the KP-FHR design, "including consideration of radionuclides generated and transported in the fuel particle and the barriers to release for licensing basis event analyses," the DOE said.

 Non-LWR developers in US NRC licensing dialogue

                             (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

The department has also awarded $1 million to radio frequency technology firm Dirac Solutions to develop and commercialize next-generation wireless sensor systems for remote monitoring of advanced reactors.

Since April 2018, the DOE has awarded $117 million in grants under its "U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development" program.

AECOM to support ARC-100 SMR development

Global infrastructure developer AECOM is to supply architecture and engineering services for the development of ARC Nuclear’s ARC-100 small modular reactor (SMR), the two companies announced March 22.

The ARC-100 is a 100 MWe sodium-cooled, fast flux, pool type reactor which uses metallic fuel. The design is based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), operational until 1994.

In July 2018, ARC and molten-salt reactor developer Moltex Energy partnered with the Government of New Brunswick, Canada and NB Power in a new research cluster which aims to build commercial demonstration plants by 2030.

New Brunswick will provide $10 million to the program, while ARC and Moltex will each provide $5 million and set up offices in Saint John in the Bay of Fundy.

“AECOM’s decades of experience in nuclear power generation will provide the expertise and knowledge that a project like the ARC-100 requires as we enter the critical design phases," Norman Sawyer, President of ARC Canada, said.

"Further, through the support of the Government of New Brunswick, it creates the opportunity for ARC Canada to attract premier companies such as AECOM to the Province,” he said.

AECOM already provides engineering and construction services to a number of nuclear technology projects.

The ARC-100 technology "holds great promise not just for New Brunswick, but for the future of nuclear power generation across Canada,” Scott Reeder, Vice President and Board Member of AECOM Canada Nuclear Operations, said.

US signed seven nuclear export authorisations to Saudi Arabia

U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry has issued seven Part 810 authorizations to U.S. companies to export unclassified nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, the Department of Energy (DOE) said in a statement March 28.

The Trump administration has been under pressure to share details of ongoing nuclear power negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Experts have warned the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology could proliferate the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

In February, a U.S. House Committee launched an investigation into whether actions by the Trump Administration to support nuclear plant sales in Saudi Arabia are in the interests of U.S. national security or driven by the potential for personal financial gain. Whistleblowers had told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform of continuing attempts to sell nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia without a full review of security concerns.

"A Part 810 authorization does not authorize the transfer of nuclear material, equipment or components," the DOE said its latest statement.

"The specifics of these authorizations have not been made public because the companies determined that the authorizations contain proprietary business information. No enrichment or reprocessing technology has been authorized to Saudi Arabia," it said.

The U.S. is continuing to discuss with Saudi Arabia a potential 123 agreement, which would allow the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to license the export of nuclear material, equipment and components to the Middle East country, the DOE said.

"All 123 agreements undergo rigorous Congressional review, including 90 days of continuous session review by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” it noted.

Nuclear power capacity in the Middle East is forecast to rise from 3.6 GW in 2018 to 14.1 GW by 2028, according to construction timetables and recent agreements between Middle East countries and nuclear vendors, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in March 2018.

               Middle East nuclear capacity forecast (March 2018)

Strong U.S. private commercial interests have been "pressing aggressively" for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, the House committee said in a report in February which cited whistleblowers close to the matter.

Proponents of the nuclear plan included IP3 International, a private company led by ex-military officers and security officials, and Flynn Intel Group, a consultancy and lobby set up by Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Adviser.

"According to the whistleblowers, General Flynn continued to advocate for the adoption of the IP3 plan not only during the transition, but even after he joined the White House as President Trump’s National Security Advisor," the committee said in its report.

Flynn was fired from his post as National Security Adviser in February 2017 but White House officials continued to move forward on the IP3 nuclear plan, the report said.

DOE completes $1.7bn loan guarantee for Vogtle 3&4

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has finalized $1.7 billion of loan guarantees for Georgia Power's Vogtle 3&4 AP1000 nuclear plant construction project, which is now 75% complete, Georgia Power said in a statement.

The DOE has so far issued $5.6 billion of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the project.

Supplied by Westinghouse, Vogtle 3&4 is the first new nuclear power plant built in the US for 30 years and the project has suffered severe delays and cost overruns.

Last year, cost estimates rose by $2.2 billion to $27 billion, more than double the original estimate.

Vogtle 3 is currently expected online in November 2021, followed by Vogtle 4 in November 2022.

Delays and spiralling costs prompted Westinghouse to file for bankruptcy protection in March 2017. Toshiba owned Westinghouse at the time and in 2018 the Japanese group sold Westinghouse to investment group Brookfield Business Partners for a price of $4.6 billion.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Nuclear, owns 45.7% of the Vogtle 3&4 project, while Oglethorpe Power Corporation holds a 30% share, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia 22.7% and Dalton Utilities 1.6%.

Under an agreement signed 2018, Georgia Power will be responsible for an escalating portion of construction costs above an agreed amount. The ownership agreement will also be changed so that any future increase to cost estimates will not trigger a vote to enable construction to continue.

Vogtle 3&4 is currently the only large-scale nuclear power plant under construction in the U.S. A number of small modular reactor (SMR) developers are aiming to enter the U.S. market, predicting shorter construction times and lower costs.

"The Vogtle project is critically important to supporting the Administration's direction to revitalize and expand the U.S. nuclear industry," U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry said in a statement.

"This project is rebuilding a highly skilled U.S. nuclear workforce and supply chain for the future," Perry said.

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