Holtec Nuclear for Faster and Cheaper Upgrade of Existing Coal Plants

Holtec International’s SMR-160 (Small Modular Nuclear Reactor) can be a drop in replacement of the boilers at coal plants. Most of the existing coal plants physical assets can be saved and they just replace their boilers with Holtec’s SMR-160 nuclear steam supply system. They will use multi-stage compressors which are capable of uprating SMR-160’s relatively low enthalpy steam (700 psi @ 595 Deg F) to the elevated pressure and superheat needed to run the turbogenerator of a fossil power plant.

The needed enthalpy boost can be modified to support the continued operation of any plant’s turbogenerator, and in most cases would not require any external energy input. A provisional patent application has been filed for this innovation which opens the pathway to repurpose any coal-fired plant by replacing its coal-fired boiler with clean steam from the SMR-160 plant. Thousands of coal-burning plants around the world presently consigned to premature decommissioning can instead be re-purposed as productive clean energy generating assets. Significantly, this approach preserves the jobs associated with the operation and maintenance of the existing plant’s turbogenerator and downstream systems, while creating new, high-paying jobs associated with the SMR-160 nuclear power plant.

SMR-160 can deliver steam at any desired pressure also opens new vistas to use clean energy, such as for high-pressure steam as feedstock for industrial applications or providing low-pressure steam for district heating to cities and municipalities wishing to eliminate their current use of methane and CO2-producing fossil fuels, whether to meet clean energy goals or to protect against a forced scarcity of fossil fuels due to geo-political tensions.

In a recent meeting with the Indian Ambassador, the Honorable Amarjit S. Sandhu, Holtec CEO Dr. Kris Singh characterized the ability to replace coal with nuclear power available from Holtec’s SMR-160 as a “game changer for India and the global environment stressed by massive emissions from coal-fired plants by reconfiguring them to switch from fossil fuel to uranium as the source of energy. Most of the existing coal plants’ assets will be preserved and re-deployed to produce clean energy from Holtec’s SMR-160 nuclear reactors,” he said.

8 thoughts on “Holtec Nuclear for Faster and Cheaper Upgrade of Existing Coal Plants”

  1. Babcock & Wilcox nuclear plants use a “once through” steam generator which produces superheated steam at the generator exit.

    • Superheated by about 30 degrees at full power. Just enough superheat to eliminate the need for swirl separators and steam dryer inside the generator as you see on u-tube generators you see in Westinghouse and CE-derivative plants. This ‘nice feature’ of the once-through steam generator actually makes the system temperamental where things go bad quickly if the feedwater to the generator is interrupted. The initiating event at TMI2 was an interruption in normal feedwater flow. French navy reactors apparently have one steam generator, but having a single steam generator in an SMR like the defunct mPower or this HOLTEC rendering is not a great idea because it increases the likelihood of needing to use ECCS when that one generator has a problem. NuScale has two. Every PWRI know of besides the French navy units has at least two steam generators. Several paper reactors like mPower and Holtec have one.

  2. The efficiency of the approach is dismal, which makes the financials dismal, especially when considering the relatively high cost of the reactor.

    Coal plant steam turbines are designed to use high-temperature superheated steam, which the water reactor is incapable of providing. Attempting to replicate the coal plant steam conditions with steam compressors is impractical.

    Surprisingly, there is a nuclear approach that uses coal, which is gasified for firing in a combustion turbine. The integrated gasification combined cycle technology exists, with very efficient units operating at Fukushima. The nuclear element involves a gas (helium) cooled reactor that drives the gas turbine’s decoupled air compressor. The small reactor is passively fail-safe. The plant’s electrical output is large (around 1000 megawatts). Both steam and supercritical CO2 are used to drive turbine generators, with the gas turbine also driving a generator.

    The hybrid-nuclear/coal gasification technology approach is exceptionally efficient. The integrated use of nuclear and fossil fuels results in huge reductions in CO2 and nuclear waste, with nuclear and fossil fuel needs similarly reduced.

    This hybrid-nuclear technology approach can also just use natural gas and is an ideal replacement for gas fired combined-cycle power plants. The natural gas can be supplemented by hydrogen created from excess renewable energy, thereby achieving massively reduced CO2 emissions.

    The privately developed hybrid-nuclear technology is protected by a number of U.S. patents.

    • Yes, upgrading the steam at a 30% efficient nuclear plant would reduce its overall efficiency greatly.

      A hybrid approach where the working fluid (steam) is pre-heated by a LWR and then finished (superheated) by a fossil boiler is a valid concept – certainly not new. There is no gas cooled reactor operating at Fukushima – don’t know where you got that un-fact. The reason the hybrid approach would be difficult to negotiate with our regulator is because it introduces new equipment that is “important to safety” if not “safety related”. IOW you introduce new ways to trip the nuclear reactor and challenge the safety systems. That is frowned upon – all trips are frowned upon – they incur scrutiny. The regulator doesn’t want the reactor going offline because the coal crusher or blower or electrostatic precipitator of the superheating plant went offline. We’ll see if the TerraPower Natrium gets anywhere with their power conversion concept – I doubt they will because congress has reliably rejected SFR offerings since the ’90s. How would that change with a more complicated power conversion system?

  3. If you want to treat ultrasupercritical coal plants as a stranded asset due to the cost of the ultrasupercriticial steam turbines, sure that works out. Just gotta call out the steam compressor parasitic load for what it is, much like scrubbers or CO2 capture systems on coal plants. District heating though only really makes sense in cities that already had such systems though, or are authoritarian enough to force the install, which means the market for that is small. Process heat on the other hand may be interesting, but then that requires an associated business park area for steam customers, or the much vaunted tar sand oil recovery setups. If you can get a port city to build a reclaimed land area next to an existing coal powerplant on the shore to create such a process heat business district, you could supply SMR’s on power barges as a combined economic area, but that requires a lot of political work.

    But a whole lot of coal plants a supercritical or not even supercritical. Those make excellent brownfield sites to put in SMR’s with supercritical CO2 power cycles instead, as you can recycle the transformer yard and transmission infrastructure and toss the rest.

  4. A provisional patent application has been filed in which country? The Indian ambassador to where? The Indian Ambassador to the US is Taranjit Singh Sandhu, according to the embassy website.

    Other than that, it seems like a feasible technical approach that will have to chart a careful course through shoals of bureaucratic obstacles.

    • Imagine upgrading steam with a steam driven compressor just to keep some ancient turbine spinning LOL. I guess you could do that.

      Here’s Holtec checking I with their semiannual announcement of a new MOU or scheme. Last one was, “we’ll build a SMR factory right next to the first customer”.

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