US court blocks nuclear waste buyout after DOJ sues; Canada starts SMR site study

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

The Department of Justice said the combined company would be the only waste disposal provider for operators in nearly 40 states. (Image credit: Alan Crosthwaite)

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US court blocks EnergySolutions' buyout of Waste Control Services

The U.S. District Court for Delaware has issued a decision prohibiting the sale of interim storage company Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to decommissioning group EnergySolutions.

The Delaware judge's decision came after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in November seeking to block the transaction on competition grounds.

WCS is 100% owned by investment firm Valhi. In November 2015, Valhi agreed to sell its ownership of WCS to EnergySolutions at a price of $250 million plus $20 million stock. The deal would have seen EnergySolutions take on WCS debt of around $77 million.

EnergySolutions currently operates around 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 last year the company submitted a license application to build the U.S.' first Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF).

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

               Stored used fuel by US state
                        (Click image to enlarge)

“We believe this acquisition was in the best interest of the long-term waste disposal needs for the nuclear industry, so we are disappointed with today’s decision that prevents EnergySolutions from acquiring Waste Control Specialists,” David Lockwood, President and CEO of EnergySolutions, said in a statement June 21.

“While this acquisition would have added a Class B and C Low-Level Radioactive Waste disposal facility to our portfolio, we remain confident in our capability as a company to lead the industry in radioactive waste management and decommissioning. We look forward to working with WCS to best serve the interests of our customers,” Lockwood said.

Dominion completes spent fuel transfer at Kewaunee, Wisconsin

Dominion Energy has completed the transfer of spent fuel from its 556 MW Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin to the on-site dry storage facility, the operator said in a statement June 21.

The Kewaunee plant, located next to Lake Michigan, was permanently closed in May 2013 after it became uneconomical due to low wholesale prices. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had renewed the operating licence in 2011, until 2033.

Dominion Energy chose to defer the full decommissioning process through the SAFSTOR option. Fuel transfer began at the start of 2017 and was completed on June 15, the company said.

The number of staff employed at the Kewaunee power plant has fallen from 635 employees during operations to 140 employees currently. A further 90 staff will end employment over the next nine months after the company completes all remaining activities to place the plant in long-term storage.

Dominion Energy continues to operate three nuclear power stations– the Millstone Power station in Connecticut and the North Anna and Surry power stations in Virginia.

Canada starts siting studies for first Terrestrial Energy SMR plant

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has begun feasibility studies for the siting of Terrestrial Energy's first integrated molten salt reactor (IMSR), the developer said in a statement June 19.

“This is an important milestone for Terrestrial Energy. It maintains our momentum for 2020s deployment of IMSR power plants,” said Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy.

The new feasibility study forms part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between CNL and Terrestrial Energy in 2016. The agreement outlined a collaborative working relationship to conduct testing and validation activities to support Terrestrial Energy’s engineering program for IMSR deployment.

Terrestrial Energy became the first small modular reactor (SMR) developer to embark on Canada’s licensing process when the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) agreed in February 2016 to conduct a pre-licensing Phase 1 Vendor Design Review of the 400 MWth IMSR400 design. The company expects to complete this phase during the second half of 2017.

In parallel, the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) recently called for Expressions of Interest from other Small Modular Reactor (SMR) developers. CNL has invited technology developers, potential end-users and any other interested stakeholders to submit their findings to the laboratory by July 31.

A number of advanced nuclear reactor developers are targeting the Canadian market, where the risk-informed regulatory framework is considered more supportive for licensing new designs than in the U.S. and where numerous remote communities and industrial facilities represent captive electricity consumers.

Terrestrial Energy is also looking to deploy its integrated molten salt reactor in the U.S. In January, the company's U.S. subsidiary TEUSA announced it had started pre-license application dialogue with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its IMSR400 design and plans to submit a Design Application Certificate (DCA) or Construction Permit (CP) to the NRC no later than October 2019.

The developer has shortlisted four existing nuclear sites for its first U.S. power plant, Irish told Nuclear Energy Insider in February. 

US DOE awards $67 million to reactor research projects

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $67 million of new grants to research projects aimed at improving the safety and efficiency of nuclear power generation, the DOE said in a statement June 14.

The funds will be spread across 85 projects led by universities, industry and government laboratories.

Projects include cross-industry research to develop advanced sensors and instrumentation, advanced manufacturing methods and materials for nuclear plants and fuel applications, the DOE said.

The funding will be provided alongside the federal Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative which provides nuclear developers a single point of access to DOE facilities and resources.

Nuclear Energy Insider