Nuclear industry focuses on Generation III technology and small modular reactors

Paul Boughton

Generation III power technology and advances in small modular reactors are driving developments in the nuclear power generation market. Sean Ottewell reports.

Rolls-Royce is to collaborate with Rosatom and Finnish nuclear utility company Fortum on an initial project to assess the feasibility of introducing Russian Generation III+ VVER nuclear reactor technology to the UK new build market. The UK government and Rosatom signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to facilitate this commercial work in September.

Rolls-Royce and Rosatom have been working closely together since 2011. This latest contract will see Rolls-Royce undertake engineering and safety assessment work for Rosatom ahead of its Generation III+ VVER reactor technology potentially entering the first step of the UK's formal regulatory approval process which is called generic design assessment.

Rolls-Royce is also supporting US-based NuScale Power in its submission to the US Department of Energy's (US DOE) funding opportunity announcement to bring scalable, small modular reactor (SMR) technology to market by 2025.

The development of clean and affordable nuclear power options is a key element of the DOE nuclear energy R&D roadmap. High priority is placed upon accelerating timelines for the commercialisation and deployment of SMR technologies through its SMR licensing technical support programme.

The latest US DOE funding opportunity announcement is focused on optimising SMR efficiency, operations and designs through innovative and effective solutions for enhanced safety, operations and performance. The US DOE aims to solicit proposals for cost-shared SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and achieve commercial operation around 2025.

NuScale Power has developed novel and proprietary breakthrough technology for an innovative, simple, safe, economic, and scalable SMR. Using proven light water reactor technology, the NuScale Power Module is cooled by natural circulation, is entirely self-contained and is installed underwater and underground to maximise safety.

Generator packages to China

Alstom has signed a co-operation agreement with China's Dongfang Electric Corporation (DEC) for the supply of turbine and generator packages for future Chinese AP 1000 projects.

This agreement has a strategic importance for both Alstom and DEC as China resumes building nuclear power plants and moves towards Generation III nuclear power technology. It is also in line with the Chinese government's commitment to steady growth in the sector under the current five year plan, with a top level of safety which fully meets the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

According to the agreement, DEC's turbine and generator packages related to future AP 1000 projects will be based on Alstom's Arabelle technology. The Arabelle steam turbine is suitable for all types of nuclear reactors including AP 1000 and is renowned globally for providing higher efficiency and reduced installation and maintenance costs. AP 1000 belongs to the Generation III pressurised water reactor (PWR) and has been identified as one of the major standards for China's future nuclear development.

This agreement also marks the first introduction of the long last-stage blade Arabelle LP69 module in China. This proven technology will provide a significant advantage to the customers in the Chinese market, says Alstom. The first contract under this agreement is expected to be signed shortly.

In terms of the China's current nuclear activities, Ningde 1, the first of four home-designed CPR-1000 PWRs being built at a site in Fujian Province, began commercial operation this April after a 58-month construction period. The 1080 MWe unit was connected to the grid in late December last year and underwent a 168 hour trial operation before it began commercial operation.

In other news, Turkey has chosen Japan as its partner to develop the Sinop nuclear power project in the Black Sea province which would see the installation of four units of ATMEA1 Generation III reactors.

Having got governmental agreement, an international consortium of Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Itochu Corporation, French utility group GDF Suez and the Turkish Electricity Generation Company Incorporated (EUAS) will now undertake further development and negotiation towards the contract to build and operate the 4400 MWe nuclear plant. Commercial operation of the first nuclear unit is targeted at 2023.

Enriched uranium

The research, development and demonstration (RD&D) programme to advance USEC's American Centrifuge - America's next generation of uranium enrichment technology - continues to make solid progress in achieving its milestones.

Five of the programme's nine milestones have been completed and certified by the US DOE. USEC successfully completed the sixth milestone to test the effects of a power loss to the uranium centrifuge machines earlier in the summer, and DOE certification of that milestone is pending. The three remaining milestones are scheduled for completion by the end of the programme in December.

Over the course of this summer, the integrated systems testing programme was completed for the 120-centrifuge commercial cascade, which would be duplicated 96 times in a proposed commercial plant. All of the commercial-grade centrifuges are now spinning individually at target speed, and the process of conditioning the centrifuges and related piping on uranium hexafluoride gas is underway. USEC expects to operate the centrifuges as an interconnected cascade later in the year (Fig. 1).

Beyond proving the reliability and readiness of the American Centrifuge technology, the RD&D programme will ensure that the USA has its own indigenous uranium enrichment technology to meet national security needs. With the recent cessation of enrichment at the gaseous diffusion enrichment facility in Paducah, Kentucky, the country for the first time in more than 60 years is without its own technology in operation to enrich uranium.

Entergy go-ahead to continue operations at Indian Point

Entergy has received US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) formal notice that, while the licence renewal process is ongoing, it can continue operating Indian Point unit 2 under its existing NRC licence.

Since purchasing the plants, the company has invested more than US$1 billion (EUR752 million) upgrading and enhancing the facility and preparing it for continued safe operation during the 20-year period of a renewed operating licence.

Through the period of extended operations, Entergy will be operating unit 2 in accordance with NRC requirements and commitments made in the license renewal proceedings, a process initiated by the company in April 2007 when it filed its application for license renewal. As it always does, the NRC will provide continuous oversight through this period, and has performed many thousands of hours of inspections and reviews beforehand specifically to ensure appropriate safety preparations were made for this period.

NRC staff had previously recommended that the licences for the two operating units at Indian Point be renewed for an additional 20 years of operation, noting the plants can be operated safely and that there are no environmental impacts that would preclude licence renewal.

Additionally, while not part of the license renewal review process, Indian Point's security programme is regularly inspected by the NRC through established oversight programmes. Entergy has invested more than US$100 million (EUR75 million) at the site since 9/11 to strengthen security, and its security programme meets all NRC performance review and inspection criteria.

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