Australian news, and some related international items

How did the US nuclear industry fare in 2022?

Nuclear plants big and small are getting support from the feds. Still, problems persist — TerraPower can’t source fuel, Oklo and NuScale are tangled in red tape, and more.

Canary Media 28 December 2022 Eric Wesoff

The U.S. nuclear power market continued to sputter in 2022 as it faced regulatory, technical and financial setbacks — despite solid support from the federal government. 

This mirrors the global nuclear scene; plant closings and construction delays have resulted in nuclear falling to just 9.8 percent of global power generation in 2021, its lowest level since the 1980s, according to the World Nuclear Industry 2022 annual report.

The United States generates more nuclear power than any other country in the world, with about 95 gigawatts of capacity, followed by China, but construction of new plants has been plagued by cost and schedule overruns, as well as an inability to keep up with the plunging costs of natural gas and renewable energy sources. Still, nuclear power provides a crucial 20 percent of U.S. electricity from the 92 light-water reactors that were built in a seemingly unreplicable construction binge in the 1970s and ​‘80s.

Some of these plants are struggling financially, many are approaching their decommission dates, and the only new large reactors constructed in recent memory, at the Plant Vogtle in Georgia, have been calamitous money pits brimming with incompetence and even fraud.

Here are the U.S. nuclear industry’s highs and lows from 2022. 

Diablo Canyon lives

Diablo Canyon, California’s last remaining nuclear plant, was granted up to $1.1 billion in support from the U.S. Department of Energy in November, which might allow the two-reactor plant to remain in business. ……………..

Still, Diablo faces a reckoning with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding its license, as the plant must now confront years of deferred maintenance in the run-up to its anticipated retirement. 

Fuel loading at Vogtle

On October 17, Georgia Power reported that ​“fuel load” into the Plant Vogtle Unit 3 reactor core had been completed, marking an overdue milestone in the bumpy journey of getting two new reactors at this power plant up and running. During the fuel-loading process, technicians and operators transferred scores of fuel assemblies one by one to the Unit 3 reactor…………………….

On December 7, Vogtle’s Unit 4 completed cold hydro testing, the penultimate step before hot functional testing, which is scheduled to begin early next year. 

The two units are the first new nuclear units to be built in the U.S. in more than three decades — and they haven’t made nuclear power look good. The project is six years overdue and will cost utility customers over $30 billion, more than double the original price tag. DOE’s Loan Programs Office provided more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to help complete Vogtle’s expansion.

DOE and IRA love nuclear power

The Biden administration is committed to maintaining the existing nuclear fleet and bringing innovative, new nuclear-reactor designs to market.

The Inflation Reduction Act provides generous production credits for existing nuclear plants and added premiums for meeting prevailing-wage requirements. These credits offer a potential $30 billion lifeline to struggling plants at risk of early retirement. 

The IRA also provides a tax credit for advanced nuclear reactors and a credit of up to 30 percent for microreactors, while devoting $700 million to support the development of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), the highly enriched fuel used in many advanced nuclear reactors. 

This funding is in addition to the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit program, which lets existing U.S. reactors bid on credits to help support their continued operations. The DOE’s Loan Programs Office also has $11 billion in funding for nuclear plants and nuclear supply chains, according to Jigar Shah, director of the office. 

………………………….. TerraPower and dozens of other advanced nuclear startups require a concentrated form of fuel — HALEU. But the only current commercial supplier of HALEU is Tenex, a Russian state-owned company. That wasn’t a great situation even before Russia invaded Ukraine.

In mid-December, TerraPower announced that it has pushed back the planned start date for its reactor because depending on HALEU sourced from Russia had become an unworkable business plan. ​“Given the lack of fuel availability now, and that there has been no construction started on new fuel enrichment facilities, TerraPower is anticipating a minimum of a two-year delay to being able to bring the Natrium reactor into operation,” said CEO Chris Levesque.

The world’s fleet of light-water reactors runs almost entirely on fuel enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, which is classified as low-enriched uranium (LEU). In contrast, the vast majority of non-light-water reactor designs in development, like TerraPower’s, run on enrichments of 5 to 20 percent (HALEU).

X-energy goes public via SPAC

X-energy, a developer of small modular nuclear reactors and fuel, is going public through the magic of a merger with Ares Acquisition Corporation, a publicly traded special-purpose acquisition company…………… Once the disreputable domain of pink-sheet over-the-counter stocks, SPACs have become an acceptable way for companies to go public without the burden of revenue or the actual due diligence most public companies go through. ………………………………………………..

NuScale’s NRC blues………….


December 30, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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