Atomic Insights is tracking too many consequential energy stories this week to cover them with individual posts. Here is a rundown with some brief or not so brief commentary.
Update: Just a few moments after posting, I opened a press release from the US Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) announcing the results of a DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement. Information from that release has been added to the below.
DOE Advanced Reactors Funding Opportunity Announcement
In support of the Administration’s goal to produce more carbon-free energy, today the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the selection of two companies, X-energy and Southern Company, to further develop advanced nuclear reactor designs. These awards, with a multi-year cost share of up to $80 million for both companies, will support work to address key technical challenges to the design, construction, and operation of next generation nuclear reactors.
Following a competitive process, DOE will fund cost-shared research and development activities with industry to support these two companies with performance-based advanced reactor concepts for further development in the areas of safety, operations, and economics. The projects announced today will allow industry led teams, which include participants from universities and national laboratories, to further nuclear energy technology, and will enable companies to further develop their advanced reactor designs with potential for demonstration in the 2035 timeframe. Initially, DOE’s investment will be $6 million for each project and both companies will provide cost-share. The possible multi-year cost-share value for this research is up to $80 million.
X-energy – partnering with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to solve design and fuel development challenges of the Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor. This type of reactor has next generation design and the most advanced safety features and it is also smaller than traditional nuclear reactors. These factors would potentially enable such a reactor to serve a wider array of communities – particularly densely populated areas – while ensuring public safety.
Southern Company Services – partnering with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to perform integrated effects tests and materials suitability studies to support development of the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. The MFCR is also a next generation design with the most advanced safety features that enable its potential use across the country.
Oil prices continue to plummet, reaching their lowest level in a dozen years. This boon for consumers who are not employed in the oil business has arrived because there is a few percent more current production than current demand.
Since that situation has continued for several months, the world’s limited storage capacity is almost completely full. Too many producers who have already created the capacity to deliver oil to the market feel compelled to keep pumping and selling at whatever price they can get because they don’t want to give up any market share, they have loans that must be serviced, and they have resources that can be damaged by attempting to interrupt the flow for very long.
Banks and investors that are holding loans and securities backed by oil and gas income are getting nervous about the value of those financial assets in a market that doesn’t place a high enough value on hydrocarbon products right now.
Car manufacturers are having their best sales results ever. Those sales are increasingly shifting to larger vehicles like pickup trucks and larger SUVs.
Oil and gas producers have announced substantial reductions in expected capital expenditures and are laying off thousands of people who have been working in the fields that have produced the increasing supplies.
Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources and a leader in the North Dakota fracking boom, predicts that crude oil prices will double to $60 per barrel by the end of 2016. He predicts that recovery will happen as production falls, but a recovery in demand, perhaps all the way back to 2007 levels, would also push prices higher.
Upstate Energy Jobs claims an important political victory
Governor Cuomo of New York has issued a policy book titled Built to Lead in support of his State of the State address. That 500+ page document includes an important paragraph for people interested in nuclear energy.
As the state works to meet this aggressive goal it must support upstate nuclear power plants that provide important sources of carbon-free energy. If any one of those plants were to close the market would likely rely on fossil fuel-fired plants to replace their energy source which would set back the state’s attempt to reduce carbon emissions. As DPS works to support the development of new sources of renewable energy it will also develop market mechanisms to provide financial support for safely operating upstate nuclear power plants. These efforts will ensure that safely operating, fully licensed nuclear power plants are able to provide a necessary bridge to help New York achieve its 50 percent renewables goal by 2030.
Those words are the result of advocacy efforts by UpstateEnergyJobs.com, an initiative funded by the County of Oswego Industrial Development Agency.
The next important steps will be to convince the governor to remove the word “upstate” in the first sentence and to encourage the NRC to take the final steps that will put Indian Point back into the “fully licensed” category.
Wisconsin Assembly takes a step forward
Wisconsin is one of the states that still has laws on its book that put an effective moratorium on new nuclear plants. Like other similar laws, it prohibits new plant permits until the federal government begins operating a permanent facility for used nuclear fuel. Wisconsin laws go one step further than most and require a determination that the new facility would not be a burden on electricity customers or taxpayers.
On Tuesday, January 12, the state Assembly approved a bill that would remove the limiting prerequisites. It would not change any of the other requirements that must be fulfilled before any new facility can be sited and started.
The bill still needs to be approved by the state Senate and the Governor before it becomes law.
Floating nuclear plants — Russia and China
Since 2006, Russia has been building a first of a kind floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov. It includes 2 modified KLT-40 reactor power plants derived from proven machines that currently propel icebreakers and a single ice-capable ore cargo ship. Partially as a result of the ancillary features chosen for this FOAK facility and partially as a result of serious issues with the shipyards that are building the plant, Bellona is quoting an anonymous source inside Rosatom who has said that it will not be connected to the grid until sometime in 2021.
A contract tender was just issued for the port facilities that will be needed to support the vessel/barge once it is completed.
On January 13, World Nuclear News reported that China General Nuclear (CGN) was planning to produce a demonstration floating nuclear plant that will use a new ACPR50S (200 MWth, 60 MWe) small modular reactor. The reactor is a reduced size version of the ACP100S (450 MWth, 140 MWe), which is designed for use on land. That demonstration unit is due to begin operating in 2020.
Aside: The ACP100S has a lot in common with the B&W mPower reactor design. End Aside.
Brazil hosting potential suppliers for new nuclear
Brazil, which is currently dependent on massive hydroelectric dams whose output can be significantly reduced in drought years, is evaluating sites for new nuclear plants. This week, China National Nuclear Corporation visited Electrobras to evaluate sites and meet with decision makers.
Washington is a promising location for small reactors
A report commissioned by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council indicates that there are a number of good reasons for Washington to consider getting more involved in hosting and encouraging small modular reactor developments. The move to consider small nuclear plants is being supported by lawmakers, with Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick leading the charge.
The National Council for Science and the Environment will be holding its 16th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment in Washington, D.C. next week (January 19-21).
I’ll be covering the event for Atomic Insights. While wandering the hallways, attending sessions and checking out the exhibits, I’ll be trying to stimulate people who have questioning attitudes to consider nuclear energy. Many might not have thought about the power of that particular tool for addressing the problems that concern them.
Unfortunately, there are numerous sources on the web and in other information outlets that portray nuclear energy as a water consumer while overlooking its proven capacity to power freshwater production facilities.