Nuclear Energy Roundup – Russian nuclear ambitions, Yucca Mountain

1. The head of the Russian state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom, Sergey Kiriyenko, has predicted that China will soon become Russia’s main competitor on the global nuclear industry market.

“As far as all the recent foreign contracts for nuclear energy projects are concerned, we have defeated or main competitors, the United States, France and Japan,” Kiriyenko said. “But in a very short while, we will have to compete with Chinese nuclear reactor designs rather than the American AP-1000 reactors.”

He went on to say that labour costs and the price of equipment will be the two most important competitive factors.

NBF Notes – South Korea is also a strong competitor in the global nuclear market.

2. Backed by President Vladimir Putin, state-run atomic energy company Rosatom is redoubling its efforts to sell to developing countries such as China, India, and Vietnam.

“We want to make profits out of nuclear energy. We want to power the world,” Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, a reform-minded politician and Russia’s youngest-ever prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin, told the IAEA forum.

In Russia there are nine reactors under construction, making it the world’s second busiest market behind China.

More nuclear power will allow Russia to export more of its oil and gas and government plans call for nuclear to account for 25 percent of the domestic energy market by 2030, up from 16 percent powered by 33 reactors currently.

Helping spur the change is an integration of Russia’s nuclear industry, both military and civilian, which has been brought under Rosatom’s control since Kiriyenko’s appointment by Putin in 2005.

The vertically integrated company now covers all facets of the industry, from uranium mining to fuel enrichment and recycling and grid development.

Of the 68 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, Rosatom is building 28 – the nine in Russia plus 19 abroad including a controversial first plant for Iran, information from the IAEA and Rosatom shows.

In comparison, French rival Areva has just four reactors under construction while Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse – although involved in building in the United States, China and South Korea – has not completed a reactor since 1995.

Kiriyenko said Rosatom has increased its foreign contracts by 60 percent, to $66.5 billion, in the last two years. It wants to triple sales by 2030 and has opened marketing offices in six countries.

Rosatom is pitching a new all-in-one offer to “Build, Own, Operate” (BOO) reactors aimed at allowing nations to enter the nuclear sector.

It has won recent sales by offering full package deals to nuclear newcomers such as Belarus and Bangladesh, which have neither the money nor know-how to build a first reactor.

“Right now, Russia is it if you want that kind of help,” Gordon said.

Not only will Rosatom finance and build a plant, but it will operate it for up to 60 years.

Twin reactors sold to Turkey will be the first to operate under this BOO model – although Ankara has awarded a $22-billion deal to a Japanese-French consortium to build its second nuclear power plant.

Rosatom estimates it will have orders for 80 reactors abroad by 2030, many under its BOO scheme.

3. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acted illegally by abandoning the review of the licence application for the Yucca Mountain waste repository, the US Court of Appeals has ruled.

The ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit was made in response to a lawsuit brought by petitioners including the states of Washington and South Carolina, and other entities and individuals from those states including state public utility regulators. The petitioners were seeking a writ of mandamus: a court order effectively forcing the licence application work to be resumed.

The move was greeted by US nuclear industry bodies the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition as a clear signal about the NRC’s obligation to review the Yucca Mountain licence application. “The nuclear energy industry fully expects the NRC to take all necessary steps to immediately resume its independent scientific evaluation of the Yucca Mountain licence application, as directed by the court,” the two bodies said in a joint statement.

Noting that consumers of nuclear-generated electricity have already contributed nearly $35 billion in fees and interest to federal coffers specifically for the management of used nuclear fuel, the joint statement went on to encourage Congress to provide appropriate funding to facilitate completion of the review. “Consumers … deserve to know whether Yucca Mountain is a safe site for the permanent disposal of nuclear fuel,” they said.

4. General Atomics has announced that it is among the small modular reactor (SMR) developers seeking funds from the US Department of Energy. It has submitted its Energy Multiplier Module (EM2), a helium-cooled high-temperature reactor.

General Atomics (GA) has now confirmed that it is one of several SMR developers to have submitted proposals in the second round. Its proposal is for the EM2, a modified version of its Gas-Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) design.

The EM2 employs a 500 MWt, 265 MWe helium-cooled fast-neutron high-temperature reactor operating at 850°C. This would be factory manufactured and transported to the plant site by truck. According to GA, the EM2 reactor would be fuelled with 20 tonnes of used PWR fuel or depleted uranium, plus 22 tonnes of uranium enriched to about 12% U-235 as the starter.

It is designed to operate for 30 years without requiring refuelling, the company said. Used fuel from the EM2 could be processed to remove fission products (about 4 tonnes) and the balance then recycled as fuel for subsequent cycles, each time topped up with four tonnes of used PWR fuel. The module also incorporates a truck-transportable high-speed gas turbine generator.

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