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NRC & DOE to Share Expertise to Speed Up Development of Advanced Nuclear Reactors

  • NRC & DOE to Share Expertise to Speed Up Development of Advanced Nuclear Reactors
  • Recent Developments at NRC to Streamline Licensing of Advanced Nuclear Reactors
  • Oklo Fabricates Fuel Prototypes at Idaho National Laboratory
  • Czech Republic PM – We Must Build New Nuclear Even if in Breach Of EU Law
  • Nuclear Remains in South Africa’s Energy Plans With a Focus on Affordable Small Modular Reactors

(NucNet) The US Department of Energy and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to share technical expertise and computing resources to speed up the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.

The MOU centers on the DOE’s new National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), located at the Idaho National Laboratory, which was established to accelerate commercialization of advanced nuclear technologies.

nuclear TRLs

The agreement couples the research capabilities of the DOE’s National Laboratories with the regulatory expertise of the NRC to help the development and licensing of advanced reactors.

“The US has the technology, expertise and facilities to lead the world in developing next-generation reactors,” said assistant secretary for nuclear energy Rita Baranwal.

“This partnership between the DOE and the NRC is a crucial step forward in making sure US nuclear technologies are available, both domestically and abroad, as soon as possible to bring clean and reliable energy to everyone around world.”

According to the agreement, the DOE and the NRC will share technical information and expertise. In addition, the NRC will have access to capabilities developed through NRIC, including high-performance computers and modelling codes, to support licensing of advanced nuclear reactors.

In return, the NRC will provide the DOE and the nuclear community with information on its regulations, guidance and licensing processes for new or advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

Recent Developments at NRC to Streamline Licensing of Advanced Nuclear Reactors

nrc-seal.png

According to a report by Morgan Lewis published in Jsupra on 10/18/19 a number of developments have occured in recent weeks at the NRC that will make it easier and faster to license advanced nuclear reactors.

The NRC’s Division of Advanced Reactors released for public review a draft white paper titled “Non-Light Water Review Strategy” ML19275F299 (PDF file, 52 pages) on September 30, 2019. The white paper will “support the [NRC’s] review of applications for non-LWR designs submitted prior to the development of the technology-inclusive, risk-informed and performance-based regulatory framework.

According to the summary in Jsupra, the white paper addresses the following topics:

  • Various approaches to developing the licensing basis for non-LWR designs
  • Background and references for pre-application interactions, contents of applications, and development of safety evaluation reports
  • The scope and focus of the Staff’s technical review
  • The acceptance criteria that could be considered by the Staff during the technical review of a non-LWR application
  • The analysis and evaluation of the integrated system design and expectations for probabilistic risk assessments for non-LWRs
  • Expectations for the applicability of current LWR regulations

The NRC Staff expects the draft white paper “will be final by November 2019 to aid in the reviews of non-LWR applications, which may be submitted as soon as December 2019.”  [See below Oklo, a developer of an advanced reactors, is one of them.]

The NRC is working on a separate draft paper that will potentially change the siting guidance as to where advanced reactors can be located by changing the population density limits for the surrounding area. The paper looks at estimates of radiological consequences, based on dose calculations, from design-specific events.

The report also notes that the NRC Staff hosted a public meeting with industry groups and other stakeholders on October 10, 2019, to discuss potential regulatory process improvements related to the licensing of advanced reactors.

The NRC staff told the meeting the agency does not plan to implement a new licensing process. It said applicants will continue to apply for either a construction permit and operating license (i.e., the Part 50 framework) or a combined operating license (i.e., the Part 52 framework)

Oklo Fabricates Fuel Prototypes at Idaho National Laboratory

(Morning Consult) ( @JackieTothDC ) The online wire service reports that Oklo, a developer of a mini nuclear reactor, said it has successfully demonstrated prototypes of its uranium metallic fuel. It is a key development for the company and for the U.S. advanced nuclear reactor community.

oklo logoOklo is developing a compact 2 MWe fast spectrum reactor. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is working with the company on fuel development and qualification.

Oklo fabricated the fuel prototypes, with multiple prototype fuel elements reaching production specification, for anticipated use in its 1-2 MWe fast reactor. The reactor design is intended to generate both process heat and electricity.

OKLO is a partner with the INL on a DOE ARPE-E $1.8 million award of federal funding. INL and its partners are proposing a next generation uranium metal fuel in support of a 1-2 MWe compact fast reactor that is sized for off-grid applications. It would only need refueling once every 12 years.

The Oklo team believes it has demonstrated fuel prototypes that will support production processes. Key fearures are that it incorporate engineered porosity to absorb and retain produced gasses, allowing for higher operating temperatures.It has a diffusion barrier between the fuel alloy and the cladding to avoid material degradation, which Oklo clais removes the need for the complicated-to-manufacture sodium bond between fuel and cladding.

The Oklo design would be using high assay low enriched fuel (HALEU) which is enriched to greater than 5% U235 but less than 20% U235. Having reliable supplies of HALEU fuel is one of the challenges the design faces in its path to market. Earlier this year DOE announced a $115M contract to produce the fuel with Centrus Energy in Ohio.

Background on the Oklo Design

The Energy Policy Center Columbia University in New York has this information about the Oklo design (Pages 89-90 PDF file –A Comparison of Advanced Nuclear Technologies)

“The plant is designed to be a metal block containing uranium based metallic fuel in a heat pipe configuration that uses liquid sodium. The power conversion system is not final, but consideration is being given to organic Rankine cycle, steam, or super-critical CO2. There is insufficient technical information available publicly to put together a table of key parameters.”

“The design is such that the nuclear plant can ft into a standard shipping container. Two additional containers would house the power conversion system. With mass manufacturing of these small modules, designers claim they can produce electricity for $0.03/kWh. While the design is only in very preliminary stages, they have received venture capital funding to move the design forward.”

According to a brief description of some of the work taking place at the INL with Oklo, in addition to the fuel work, the firm and its partners are looking at ways to place the reactor closer to heavily populated areas.

“Oklo reactors have the potential to be located close to populated areas, enabling flexible siting to meet a wide variety of potential customer needs. One of the biggest challenges for design and siting for advanced reactors is determining source terms and accident scenarios. To properly account for the unique characteristics of an advanced reactor, many effects must be accounted for which may be particular to a certain design. For example, the Oklo reactor has a small core, is not pressurized, operates without pumps, and does not have a large coolant inventory. Using a physics-based mechanistic source term calculation, the beneficial effects of these unique characteristics can be quantified.”

Oklo’s Engagement with the NRC

Jacob DeWitte, CEO of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, said in an interview with the Morning Consult that the demonstration of the fuel protoype is “one of the bigger steps on the pathway for us moving towards ultimately submitting a license application.”

He added that the firm plans to build a commercial unit in the early 2020s. To that end Oklo is also the first advanced fission company to begin paid pre-application talks with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Since November 2016, the staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been engaged in pre-application activities with Oklo. The docket number 99902046  in the NRC ADAMS system, which contains OKLO’s pre-application documents.

Oklo is aiming to submit its license application to the NRC in the next six months, and is working toward filing a combined construction and operation license (COL) application in late 2019.  The firm has not announced a customer nor a site for the first-of-a-kind unit.

Other Nuclear News

Czech Republic PM – We Must Build New Nuclear Even if in Breach of EU Law

(NucNet) The Czech Republic must build new nuclear units at the Temelín and Dukovany nuclear power stations even if it means violating European law, prime minister Andrej Babis told the European committee of the lower house of parliament.

The European Union, strongly influenced by the anti-nuclear advice of Germany and Austria, has promulgated rules that make it difficult for other EU nations to develop new nuclear reactors. The issues revolve around the degree of govenment support, including loan guarantees and rate floors, for new builds.

Nuclear electricity 2016

Mr Babis said, “We overslept in regards to nuclear energy. We could have been building Temelín by now. We must push this through even if it means violating European law. Energy security is our priority.”

In July the Czech government approved a preliminary plan for a subsidiary of state power company ČEZ to build a new nuclear power station at Dukovany.

A tender for the project is expected to be organized at the end of 2020 with construction beginning before 2030 and completed between 2035 and 2040. The contract will be worth about $4.8bn.

In a major change in policy, the government has said it will provide financing and political guarantees for the project. A 2015 Czech state energy policy calls for one new unit at Dukovany and possibly three more either at Dukovany or Temelín.

Nuclear Remains in South Africa’s Energy Plans With a Focus on Affordable Small Modular Reactors

(WNN) The operation of the Koeberg nuclear power plant will be extended by 20 years and a nuclear new build program involving small modular reactors (SMRs) will be launched as part of South Africa’s energy plans for the next decade. The plans were approved this week by the country’s government.

South Africa’s long-term energy plans are outlined under the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which first came into effect in 2011. The IRP is the national electricity infrastructure development plan based on least cost-electricity supply and demand balance, which takes into account security of supply and the environment.

The 2011 plan called for construction of 9600 MWe of new nuclear capacity over the period to 2030. That plan was based on a now discredited offer by Rosatom to supply eight 1200 MW VVER PWR type reactors and also sell South Africa the fuel for them for 60 years.

The plan died for multiple reasons the primary one being that South Africa didn’t have the means to finance its end of the project. Critics of the plan also point to the backroom negotiations to ink the deal that took place between South Africa’s then PM Zuma and Russian PM Putin.

A draft update to the IRP released for public comment in 2018 proposed nuclear capacity remaining at 1860 MWe – the capacity of the Koeberg nuclear power plant. The plan calls for operation of the Koeberg plant to be extended by 20 years to 2044, “subject to the necessary regulatory approvals”.

IRP 2019 states: “In order to avoid the demise of the nuclear power program, South Africa has made a decision to extend its design life and expand the nuclear power program into the future.”

Focus on Small Modular Reactors

In a media briefing, Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe said,

“It is a globally accepted fact that nuclear as a clean source of energy can contribute significantly to the reduction of emissions. There is a move globally towards the development of small modular reactors that are considered more manageable investment when compared to a large fleet approach.”

According to the IRP, “Small nuclear units will be a much more manageable investment when compared to a fleet approach. The development of such plants elsewhere in the world is therefore particularly interesting for South Africa, and upfront planning with regard to additional nuclear capacity is requisite, given the >10-year lead time, for timely decision making and implementation.”

small-reactors_thumb.jpgAccording to a Reuters report South Africa will not adopt a “big bang” approach to building new nuclear power capacity but instead add capacity in an affordable way,

“It comes back to a resolution we took as a government: not going big bang into nuclear, but going at a pace and price that the country can afford. Go modular, go at a pace and price that the country can afford,” Mantashe told Reuters.

“The fact that we suspected corruption (in the previous Russia deal) doesn’t mean that nuclear is irrelevant for the country in 2019.”

Mantashe would not give a timeline for any new nuclear capacity, saying the government’s energy plan would need to be approved first. The apparent timeline is to build new nuclear capacity sometime after 2030.

Mantashe said the IRP contained provision for “modular nuclear technology.” According to the plan, “Small nuclear units will be a much more manageable investment when compared to a fleet approach.”

Update 10/20/19 – South Africa government says it posted the wrong version of the IRP on its website. Details here.  The government also said emphatically it will NOT seek help from Russia to build SMRs.

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Dan Yurman's picture

Thank Dan for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 21, 2019 12:25 pm GMT

According to the agreement, the DOE and the NRC will share technical information and expertise

It seems kind of crazy that this wasn't the case already, doesn't it? What was the reason for the separation

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Oct 21, 2019 1:05 pm GMT

Many years ago the regulatory function was housed in a predecessor agency to DOE. Congress decided this was an inherent conflict of development and regulation in the same agency. A few years ago Japan followed this model breaking out the newly formed Nuclear Regulatory Agency from the METI bureaucracy.  The independence of the US NRC has been a bit of a firewall for DOE to do anything more than toss stuff over the fence for the agency to review. In recent years the two agencies have worked together to develop methods for faster yet comprehensive safety review of advanced reactors.  There has been bipartisan support for better cooperation between DOE and NRC and it has resulted in several pieces of legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president. See my report here https://neutronbytes.com/2019/07/07/congress-moves-ahead-with-legislation-to-promote-development-of-advanced-nuclear-reactors/

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 21, 2019 9:15 pm GMT

Really interesting-- thanks for the history lesson! Seems like one of those instances where if you were to build the arrangement from the ground up that you might do it differently, but working from a given starting point can be more difficult. Hope to see more support for collaboration to remove any unnecessary friction in the science & tech development

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