SONE Newsletter 280 – September 2022

Posted by Wade Allison on 14 September 2022 in Newsletters

Tagged with: AGM, China, Core Power, HALEU, MSR, Mikal Bøe, Rolls-Royce, Rory Megginson, SMR, South Korea, Wolsong.

This month

NOTICE: The 2022 SONE Annual General Meeting

The AGM will be held on 17 October at 2pm at The Institute of Civil Engineers, 1 Great George Street, as last year. All Members are encouraged to attend. The agenda, including details of the invited speaker(s), Minutes of the 2021 AGM, Annual Report and Accounts will be emailed to Members in good time in the next few weeks (with hardcopy to those not receiving email).

Who is moving nuclear energy ahead in the UK?

The UK Department for Transport

The DfT, via the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency (UKMCA), has set a target date for passing the Merchant Shipping (Nuclear Ships) Regulations into law. The current legislative timetable will see the regulations enter force on November 22. The regulations will transpose Chapter VIII in the Annex to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) together with the Safety Code for Nuclear Ships (res. A.491.XII) into UK law.

“This is an important milestone in the regulatory progress for new nuclear in maritime,” commented Mikal Bøe, founder and CEO of UK-based atomic propulsion specialist CORE POWER. The UKMCA conducted an extensive consultation with members of the UK maritime sector during 2021 and concluded that there is an appetite for nuclear ships over the next 10 years with growing interest for nuclear propulsion for large ocean-going vessels.

Lloyds Register of Shipping (LR)

LR is currently working on an assurance framework for molten salt reactor installations with CORE POWER (UK) Ltd. As an “always-on” source of good quality, high temperature heat, MSR technology can be an energy transition catalyst for many energy-intensive industries, both on- and off-shore.

Being small and modular, new reactors like the MSR are ideal for mass-assembly and manufacturing to improve build quality and lower costs. Most new nuclear reactors will be too heavy to be transported by road and rail, so sea transportation will be preferred. The factories that build the reactors would therefore ideally be co-located with shipyards where they can be loaded onto ships as cargo or installed on floating power stations or ships being built next door.

“The inherent advantage of floating nuclear power has long been the dream of engineers all over the world. Building 10 power plants a year instead of one every 10 years and towing it to its location and back when it’s finished, just changes the way access to clean energy is conceived” says Mark Tipping; adding: “surrounded by coolant from the ocean and being completely immune to earthquakes and tsunamis should make floating nuclear power plants the choice of a generation in Europe, America and Japan”.

Using that always-on clean energy for water desalination is now the focus of LR’s work with Core Power. Dr Rory Megginson explains the backdrop. “As many as four billion people are now suffering from water scarcity and since agriculture is the largest consumer of water, demand will keep rising. Climate change and global warming makes it a lot worse.” Research by Core Power reveals that a huge increase in desalination capacity will be needed between now and the middle of the century. Current global capacity was 112 million m3 of fresh water per day in 2020 and is forecast by Core Power to almost 270 million m3 per day by 2050. Shore-based water desalination is today powered by fossil fuels and intermittent solar and wind power. These often suffer from long lead times to build and commission; are difficult to scale and mostly inflexible to changing needs. As climate change worsens, that inflexibility could become a prominent feature for dry nations.

Mark Tipping points out that fuelled-for-life nuclear technology holds a wide range of potential benefits for commercial shipping. In port, MSR-electric vessels could supply the electrical power to shore-gear for loading and discharging operations. This would need some infrastructure to be built for reverse cold-ironing to be possible but would in turn help to decarbonise ports and improve the lives of those who work and live in port communities.

Dr Megginson sees a new era emerging. He concludes:

We’re coming to the end of the first industrial revolution and the era of fossil fuels is closing. Since intermittent solar and wind cannot meet the demands of heavy transport and industry, we must move forward with new nuclear. As the myths about nuclear fade into the distance, we start to see a new dawn for clean reliable energy and water with decarbonisation as a warmly welcomed bonus.

What is obstructing the roll out of SMR technology?

The Treasury are dragging their feet, we are told. The government has been warned that delays in commissioning the first tranche of mini nuclear reactors risk undermining action to tackle the energy crisis. Plans to develop five small modular reactors (SMRs) by Rolls-Royce, each generating enough power for a million homes, had been hindered by red tape within the Treasury, Tobias Ellwood MP said.

“The Rolls-Royce design is now stuck between the development and delivery phases, and that delay means the built-in advantage that Rolls-Royce has – its experience of procuring nuclear reactors for the Royal Navy – is being lost because of unnecessary delays and bureaucracy,” he said in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday (7 September).

The survival of Diablo Canyon NPP assured, for now

Four years ago, California regulators approved a proposal to retire the state’s last operating nuclear facility, the 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon power plant by 2025. This month, however, lawmakers scrambled during the last hours of the legislative session to pass a bill – Senate Bill 846 – to preserve the option to extend the plant’s life through the end of the decade. This reversal, prompted in part by Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, comes amid broader concerns around ensuring grid reliability in California. 

What went wrong? Experts point to multiple challenges they say have affected efforts to replace the Diablo Canyon power plant with clean energy resources, including regulatory delays and disruptions to global supply chains in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the expectation, that a fairly substantial amount of new resources would come online prior to 2024 and 2025, basically does not look like that’s actually in the cards,” Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, said. “That’s not to say that progress is not being made on those resources, but certainly [it’s] not being made at a pace that will allow the state to shut the plant down” on schedule, he added.

Stay of execution for two German NPP, for now

On 5 September 2022, the Federal Government announced that two of the three remaining nuclear power plants (Neckarwestheim and Isar 2) will operate beyond 31 December 2022 until April 2023 (cycle stretch out), while the Emsland Nuclear Power Plant will be shut down as planned.

But they still have not got the nuclear message, have they?

Molten Salt Reactor ready to go – in China

The western media like to report on the increased consumption of coal in China. However, they omit to tell of the rapid strides being made in the deployment of nuclear technology in China that most people in the West should be aware of. To the number of PWRs, innovations in district heating, and high temperature gas cooled reactors must now be added a Molten Salt Reactor. The dangers of energy starvation and climate change may now be evident to many in the West, but soon the Chinese will be knocking at the door offering us technology that we couldn’t be bothered to develop ourselves. Whose fault will that be? What you need to develop nuclear power is the political will to do it, as the Chinese action shows. It’s not magic.

Fuel news

Uranium Mining

Uranium salts are well known to be soluble in water - which is why the oceans contain much of the world supply. Instead of deep-mining the ore in the traditional way, it can be extracted by leaching which is cleaner, environmentally.

World Nuclear News reports

ISL - also known as solution mining, or in situ recovery (ISR) - recovers minerals from ore in the ground by dissolving them and pumping the pregnant solution to the surface where the minerals can be recovered. The method causes little surface disturbance and generates no tailings or waste rock, but the orebody needs to be permeable to the liquids used, and located so that they do not contaminate groundwater away from the orebody. More than half of the world’s uranium production is now produced by solution methods, but the technique has not so far been used in Canada.

Indeed, similar developments of leaching are reported as under way in Kazhakstan by a joint venture with the French company, Orano.

Laser enrichment

Then there are developments in laser enrichment to be followed.

High Assay Low Enriched Uranium fuel (HALEU)

This is enriched to between 5% and 20% uranium-235. World Nuclear News reports

this will be required by many advanced reactor designs that are under development, but it is not yet commercially available in the USA. Developers of nine of the 10 advanced reactor designs selected for funding under the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, including two demonstration reactors that are to be built within the next seven years, are expected to use such fuels. The act - signed into law on 16 August by President Joe Biden - allocates funding to develop a domestic supply chain.

It will be important for world political and energy stability that the United States does not become the exclusive supplier of this fuel. The smaller reactor geometry of an SMR core compared with a larger PWR means that the use of HALEU becomes important. (Small naval reactors use even higher, but undisclosed, concentrations for this reason.) So an important question is “Where else is HALEU fuel being developed?”

South Korea tackles the need for more nuclear power and less phobia

The government is proposing an additional six nuclear plants by 2036 on top of the current 24 reactors in a country the size of the US state of Indiana, raising deep concerns among hundreds of Korean residents living in the most densely built area in the world for nuclear power.

Inevitably, the law becomes involved, on one side or the other:

South Korean prosecutors have raided the Presidential Archives as part of their investigations into possible illegalities in the decision by the Moon Jae-in government to shut down unit 1 of the Wolsong nuclear power plant in 2019 before its licence expiration date, the Yonhap news agency reported. The raid came after civic activists opposing Moon’s nuclear phase-out policy filed criminal complaints against 15 government officials, including Moon’s former aides, in December 2021 over possible illegal acts in connection with the reactor closure decision.

Wade Allison, Hon. Sec.
11 September 2022