Nuclear Uprates Help US Set Record and Advanced Uprates Will Be the Future

US nuclear power plants set a new record for annual power generation in 2018. Capacity additions from plant uprates, combined with shorter refueling maintenance cycles, enabled the country’s nuclear plants to produce 807.1 million MWh in 2018, surpassing the previous peak figure of 807.0 million MWh which was recorded in 2010. Georgia Power’s Vogtle 3 and 4 – due to come online in 2021 and 2022 – will add 2.2 GWe of additional power, but this will not offset the capacity that is expected to retire over the next seven years based on announced retirements. Pilgrim in Massachusetts and Three Mile Island are expected to retire this year. Twelve reactors by 2025 will see US nuclear capacity fall by 10.5 GWe.

Lightbridge Advanced Metallic Fuel Uprates

Lightbridge is company that is developing advanced nuclear fuel. The fuel has a different shape with more surface area. The cross-section can look like a plus sign instead of a circle. They have partnered with the French nuclear companies and should new full-length fuel rods in a commercial nuclear reactor in 2021. They can enable uprates as high as 30% more power. The Lightbridge technology could economically offset and grow America’s nuclear power to 1000 TWh in the 2030s in spite of some of the shutdowns. Lightbridge’s metal fuel technology came out of the research and development work for their thorium-based seed-and-blanket fuel assembly. The metallic seed rods used in their seed-and-blanket design are capable of operating safely at increased power density compared to standard uranium oxide fuel. Lightbridge determined that a fuel assembly comprised of only metallic fuel rods could provide significant benefits to a nuclear power plant. Lightbridge initial target market worldwide is approximately 127 GWe. Our target market is projected to grow to 261 GWe by 2030.
Lightbridge is targeting large nuclear reactors with 20+ years of remaining operating license
SOURCES – Lightbridge, World Nuclear News Written By Brian Wang.

46 thoughts on “Nuclear Uprates Help US Set Record and Advanced Uprates Will Be the Future”

  1. The total cost of the two AP1000 units is well above $17e9 last I heard. The cost of the two units as reported in the press always seemed to reflect only the major participants share (which was a bit shy of 50% of the project as I recall). At one time, I was hopeful that my employer would be building a pair, but I saw the “handwriting on the wall” as when I would go up to PIT and saw all of the shale drilling (and subsequent collapse of nat gas price).

  2. Yes, and these generators are maxed out with hydrogen gas cooling, from the get go.

    While the original generators may have been oversized to 120%, they do not appear to have been oversized to 140%.

    I’m not sure the generator is the limiting component here…

    reality is we’re closing plants and a pair of AP1000 is coming in at $17B. Industry got problems a plenty. It’s sad because I love the industry

  3. Note that rewinds of electric generator rotors and replacement (rewind) of electric generator stators aren’t unheard of.

  4. Not sure what point of mine that you are contesting; you have not written a complete thought here.

  5. Framatome has run extensive tests on LTBR fuel and it’s engineers found that it performed as advertised. Enfission venture, Nuscale interests indicate it is a viable alternative, can’t be weaponized. What you speak of is not an unknown in the nuclear industry…just dated.

  6. I am describing what they do in NYC. A brown out is preferable over a black out especially during a heat wave.

  7. The renewable usually pay rent for leasing the land. I don’t know if they pay rent for public land.

  8. Lowering the voltage can destroy some equipment. You’re describing the kind of grid service they have to put up with in places like the Gaza strip, Venezuela, and India. The result is that the rich buy diesel generators, and the poor suffer. Moving to a system where wind and sun are backed by gas won’t do much for CO2 emissions, it will just make power expensive.
    Over the last 24 hours, wind in Texas has been working quite well, making from 35 to 51% of the power used, while solar made up to 3% for eight hours or so. Texas has 22.6 GW of wind, and 2.6 GW of solar. Ontario has 13.5 GW of nuclear. Over that time, Texas made 259 to 332 grams of carbon per kw/hr. Ontario made 24 to 79 grams, on average less than a quarter as much.

  9. Ah! In that case I had read it. I misinterpreted your description as being a far longer and more involved essay than it is.

  10. Has there ever been an entire week where both the wind did not blow and the sun did not shine in the entire state of Texas? At less than 40%-50% renewable you don’t need any storage. And as long as you have fast start gas turbines and some fossil fuel power plants as spinning reserve you are good up to 100% renewable. The only point were you are going to need large scale battery storage is when you have reach the point where CO2 emissions are so high that you are 4-8C over what the temperature is now and you ain’t got a choice. Battery Storage is also getting cheaper every year.

    BTW, demand control is also an option. Lower the voltage and automatically turn down or turn off some air conditioning units. Ask businesses to shut off their computers, shut down some of the elevator banks, and even call it a day.

  11. The tax advantages exist to assist the growth of renewable. It is like starting some plants in a greenhouse so that the growing season will be longer and the plants will be more robust. BTW, fossil fuel also get a lot of tax advantages. First, they don’t buy the gas and oil, they get it for free. Second, they get a tax break for depleting the oil and gas that didn’t belong to them in the first place. Third, they don’t have to pay for polluting the air and water. Socializing the cost while privatizing the profits.

  12. You could search for “rickover paper reactors, real reactors essay”, but that essay is simply anti-academic. The essay warns that those who allocate government research monies should be wary of grand claims of reactors that are cheap, simple, and multi-functional. Chances are that the design doesn’t hold all the promise that its champions argue.

  13. .. on the same map you can see that ‘ hydro reserve ‘ and ‘battery reserve’ for California, the state with most solar, and Texas, the state with most wind, registers ‘ 0 percent.’ To go mainly solar and wind, you’d need at least a week of storage for the whole grid. The world’s largest battery, in South Australia, has enough juice to power that rather small state for about two minutes. It’s not even being used for wind backup, but for frequency control – something that you don’t need if your base power is coming from huge, fast-spinning thermal generators, like nuclear or coal. Their inertia provides frequency control at no extra cost.

  14. ‘..with tax credit wind and solar make money when they are selling power for less than nothing. ‘ That’s the problem. Wind can keep taking market share from nuclear, which has an equally low carbon footprint per kilowatt hour, but which has a 92% capacity factor. Wind is around 30 to 40%, and usually if it’s calm, all the wind turbines for a thousand miles around are also becalmed. The gas turbine owners are happy with that – their major cost is fuel, so stop/start operation for ~60% of the time is fine for them. For nuclear, which runs all the time, not being able to sell its power for 40% of the time is a financial death sentence. That’s why Diablo Canyon in California is slated to close. At the moment, DC is making 11% of the power used in the state, wind is making 6%, and solar zero. If you scroll around the ElectricityMap, you can see that the area in North America with the lowest power emissions, by far, is Ontario, which is getting over half its power from nuclear and a quarter from hydro.

  15. You learn by doing. BTW, with tax credit wind and solar make money when they are selling power for less than nothing.

    As for the spinning reserve they will be less and less need for them as storage gets build.

  16. I am anti-hubris and anti-stupid. Why design and build a device that you have to balance on the point of a needle to keep it from melting down when you don’t have to. There are other choices why not explore those other choices. I believe in Murphy’s law and KISS.

  17. That’s a standard line that some sections of common wisdom like to throw around. And blame Admiral Rickover for because he should have taken 21st century German civilian power politics into account when designing 1950s American military submarines.
    I believe you mentioned that there was an essay by Rickover that addressed just this issue? Can you point to it? I tried to find it but couldn’t, far too many hits when I look for those keywords.

  18. Please link to any source you have that would demonstrate that a Thorium reactor could not blow up in the same way as a uranium reactor.

  19. Dinosaurs lasted 230 million years if you count the feathered ones. Such as the ones that woke me up this morning.

  20. The point where it doesn’t make any more sense is when your power prices go negative – you’re paying people to take it, because wind and solar combined exceed demand – but you’re still burning lots of fossils, because if you don’t need them right away, you’ll need them the moment the sun sets, or the wind gets too strong or too feeble. That point was reached years ago in Germany. It is possible because the wind and solar are paid a feed-in tariff on a must take basis, so have had no incentive not to keep building. The end result will be the renewables being subsidised to overproduce, the fossil fuels being subsidised to stay available ( German wind and solar both have very low capacity factors ), and probably some of the customers being subsidised so they can afford the resultant high prices.

  21. The argument that since renewable and conservation can’t provide 100% of our energy need we shouldn’t bother investing it them is a ridiculous argument. Every watt generated by renewable and every watt save by conservation means that less CO2 goes into the atmosphere. We should build as much renewable as we economically can. We will recognized the point where it doesn’t make any more sense.

  22. Not too sure about that. I could easily last another 30 years, maybe even 50 yrs.

    Basic problem with nuclear reactors is that the main goal in designing and building nuclear reactors was to breed Plutonium and not to generate cheap energy safely. Maybe if someone would tackle the “cheap energy safely” problem we could use that dense energy source.

  23. If they’re at all serious about climate change they’ll keep them all going till generation IV reactors are pouring off the assembly lines. Rosatom has developed a system for annealing the reactor pressure vessel, which takes out all the flaws caused by neutron damage and fatigue. Everything else can be replaced. Instead of having to pay to decommission reactors, you can just keep using them.
    Renewables work for low population density countries with lots of hydro – Norway, Iceland, South Island of New Zealand – or for places poor enough to have very low power demand. Anywhere with average population density, and first-world standard of living, either splits atoms or burns fossils.

  24. I woud like to know where this geniuses will be when one of these blow up.
    Stick to thorium reactors they are safer.

  25. Explains why an ever-growing % of stories are just inside gossip about “news celebrities” and what they tweeted today about some other famous news reader’s tweet of yesterday.

    They’ve finally found a subject they understand better than the audience.

    Meanwhile, audience numbers for “news” fall on a monthly basis, but that is unrelated. Probably due to Russians or something.

  26. Just like if you extrapolate the figures for Jet Fighters by 2050 the USAF will only be buying 1 fighter per design, it will cost $10B, and it will be too expensive to allow near any enemy airspace.

  27. My thinking is that with safer fuel Nuscale would be able to deploy 20x the reactor cores as say Westinghouse with AP1000s and yet still have slightly better odds when it comes to a chance of core melt.

    But yes licensing and the $ involved trumps all.

  28. So, it’s a future of fewer and fewer reactors each producing ever more power until irrationally shut down?

  29. The primary coolant loops of BWRs are saturated out of the reactor, but the steam entering the turbine is superheated(above the saturation curve, but not above the critical point), it does become saturated while driving the turbine. Before the quality(percentage gas) of the working fluid drops below 90%, the fluid goes back to the steam generator for “reheat”. It then goes to the low pressure section(s) until it goes to the condenser after the lowest pressure stage. Generally, 90% is assumed to be the quality where liquid water erodes blades, this is the reason conventional steam turbines have more than one stage, and provision for reheat. One reason the condenser is operated at a partial vacuum, is to keep quality higher.
    If it were not for “chemical” corrosion, inlet temp of steam Rankine cycles would be limited by steel’s loss of strength at high temperature. Presumably, the advent of supercritical steam turbines is the result of better metallurgy, and changes in economic calculations.
    Presumably self ionization is why high temperature(steam) electrolysis requires less electrical energy. There is also a mechanism where the increased ionization of the water(steam) leaches elements from steel which themselves become a problem. Commercial power plants have round the clock technicians responsible for controlling the chemistry of the Rankine cycle working fluid.

    Here’s a link to wikipedia:

  30. The facts are new nuclear power plants are much too expensive in the US. The current ones will close down one by one until almost all of them are closed down within the next 30-50 years.

  31. The only way I can see an increase in generated power, is if turbine inlet temperature is increased. At least in my classes, we were taught that inlet temperatures were limited by water(steam) chemistry. Steam becomes corrosive as more, as more H2O => OH + H, with the rise in temperature. Does lightbridge have a better way to control water chemistry?
    It’s not worth the extra power, if your heat exchangers, and turbines are destroyed by corrosion.

  32. People have to accept the fact that one reactor per week over fifty years is absolutely not going to happen. Denial is a well-known first stage of accepting reality, and even that appears to be too much of a challenge.

    China may be able to do it, at their scale, within their program, to achieve their goals. Europe will absolutely not do it, as they are doing the opposite. US is not going to do it simply due to lack of funds and ridiculous difficulty of getting permits. Russia already has all the energy it needs, of each kind, so there will be no nuclear construction surge there. Japan will not do it for many reasons. SKorea is currently schizophrenic on nuclear energy. Others do not have the technology, industrial capacity, funding, will, public acceptance, or all of that combined.

    The conclusion is obvious: global nuclear fantasy is not going to happen, no matter how good it may look on paper. Some countries can go nuclear, as France did generations ago, but that will be rare local exceptions, not the general case for all. The really interesting thing is what happens with those who do not go nuclear, yet cannot afford fossil, and do not have hydro. Solar future is actually very dark – one cannot power industry with it, i.e. metallurgy or even transport. About half of all fossil powers transport now.

  33. SONGS, and Crystal River, weren’t necessarily updates, they were basic middle-of-life maintenance. Because PWRs have lower steam temps than coal, they need giant, custom-made steam generators, and because they operate at high pressure, they need thick domes, making access difficult. So replacement is tricky, expensive, and potentially can trash the plant. Cue MSRs or metal cooling – smaller containment and HXs, no reactor pressure, better steam.
    ‘To date Lightbridge has simulated a large break loss of coolant accident for a VVER-1000 with our metallic fuel. The peak fuel temperature observed for the metallic fuel was less than 500 degrees Celsius, well below the temperature required to initiate steam interactions with the zirconium cladding (i.e., above 900 degrees Celsius). The high thermal conductivity of the metallic fuel results in the fuel temperature decreasing to the temperature of the coolant water in less than 60 seconds with little to no increase during the blowdown phase of the accident. The same accident was modeled with conventional uranium dioxide fuel and showed a near instantaneous cladding temperature rise to above 1000 degrees Celsius. The fuel and cladding temperature continued to rise during the blowdown phase of the accident and did not reach a safe, stable temperature until nearly 8 minutes after the accident began. This simulation assumes a design basis accident wherein emergency core cooling systems and cooling water are available.’

  34. Both of those – SONGS and Crystal River – weren’t necessarily updates, they were basic middle-of-life maintenance. Since PWRs need giant custom built heat exchangers, because of their low (-er than coal) steam temperature, and usually have difficult access, because of the high operating pressure/need for massive containment, replacement of HXs is tricky, expensive, and can go spectacularly wrong. Cue MSRs or metal cooled.
    Lightbridge claim better results than oxide fuel for a loss of heat sink.
    ‘To date Lightbridge has simulated a large break loss of coolant accident for a VVER-1000 with our metallic fuel. The peak fuel temperature observed for the metallic fuel was less than 500 degrees Celsius, well below the temperature required to initiate steam interactions with the zirconium cladding (i.e., above 900 degrees Celsius). The high thermal conductivity of the metallic fuel results in the fuel temperature decreasing to the temperature of the coolant water in less than 60 seconds with little to no increase during the blowdown phase of the accident. The same accident was modeled with conventional uranium dioxide fuel and showed a near instantaneous cladding temperature rise to above 1000 degrees Celsius. The fuel and cladding temperature continued to rise during the blowdown phase of the accident and did not reach a safe, stable temperature until nearly 8 minutes after the accident began.’ A pipe break should be above the top of the core, and not expose it straight away.

  35. Double break is obviously bad (yet to happen but bad nonetheless). Depends on what your reactor design is. In a Nuscale the entire reactor is submerged in a pool that will cool it.

  36. Hope Lightbridge and Nuscale are actually talking to each other. Would be quite embarrassing if they weren’t.

    it is nice fuel. It runs cool (as “cool” as your PWR gets). If they can get a superior fuel
    burnup then maybe they can offset Nuscale’s inefficiency and make them safer.

  37. You’re missing the whole fact that ceramic is an insulator and metallic fuel has a very high thermal conductivity. Fuel temperatures are low compared to oxide at power. Fuel temperatures are low in an accident too. It would have higher Decay heat if it was run at a higher heat rate. As I said below, LB has less “uranium density” than what we currently use… There is a reason we use zirconium. We could have used SS 2 billion years ago when natural abundance of 235 was 3%, but the environment was a hot mess back then. ATF is of negative economic value.

  38. This fuel is not accident tolerant. It can fit more power in a specific size, cause it has a higher uranium density, but it will also have more decay heat generation.

    So, lets assume a double guillotine break, complete loss of coolant. In a core the same size as a conventional Zr-clad core. Lots of specifics missing, but if metal, and cruciform design, I assume co-extrusion of uranium-zirconium with SS clad. Lots of decay heat in a denser package. SS melts, then U-Zr starts burning like crazy. Nothing as accident tolerant like SiC cladding, if it can be made to work.

    Don’t get me wrong, personally, I think economics will matter more than improved safety in the long run, but calling this accident tolerant is just marketing to the current hype. Improved dollar/watt is needed. what would really help, would be getting rid of the need of saying as many pieces as possible in a plant are “safety significant”, and require ungodly amounts of paperwork or full duplication.

  39. So, a plant built in 1975-1985 has 30% headroom for uprate? Nope. Our PWRs are limited by delta-T on river water (EPA-esque) while our BWR is cooling tower limited in summer (turbine backpressure) at 120% original license thermal power (full uprate already). No doubt lightbridge is cool fuel… but you need to enrich it to 10% to get the same fuel load as 5% enriched UO2 as the alloy is like 50% zirconium. Can’t use LB in a BWR because the fuel would fling the water away from itself like a cyclone moisture separator. The question is: does the lack of fuel grids trade off with the twist as far as pressure drop (is pressure drop better or worse) for PWR? Fun things to analyze.

    Russian Navy has the operational experience with this type of fuel. It’s a nice solution for a navy plant… alternative to plates. Metallic fuel can be ramped on demand unlike ceramic fuel, which must be babied. Flank speed! Aye aye captain!

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