Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

Initial takes on Biden’s pick for DOE secretary

Granholm

Two op-eds published recently discuss president-elect Joe Biden’s pick—former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm—to run the Department of Energy. The first is from Llewellyn King, the creator of The White House Chronicle, and the second op-ed is from Hayes Brown, a columnist for MSNBC.

Both op-eds reach similar conclusions in that they do not see Granholm as the right choice to head the DOE, mainly because “despite its name, dealing with energy production isn’t the Energy Department’s main function,” as Brown points out.

Study completed on BWRX-300 deployment in Poland

The completion of a study assessing the feasibility of deploying a fleet of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH) BWRX-300 small modular reactors in Poland was announced recently by the Polish firm Synthos Green Energy (SGE).

The feasibility study, which was prepared by Exelon Generation, was not made publicly available by SGE. The study covers the analysis of key aspects of SMR technology implementation, including cost issues, personnel policy, regulatory and security issues, construction models, and operational issues, according to SGE.

SGE is a subsidiary of Synthos S.A., a manufacturer of synthetic rubber and one of the biggest producers of chemical raw materials in Poland. According to SGE, it views SMR technology as an opportunity for the deep decarbonization of Polish industry and the country's heating sector.

DOE issues Versatile Test Reactor draft EIS, confirms INL as its “preferred alternative”

The Department of Energy has begun the environmental review of its proposed Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), releasing a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for public review and comment on December 21. The sodium-cooled, fast-neutron-spectrum VTR is intended to enhance and accelerate U.S. research, development, and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies.

Canada unveils ambitious plan for SMRs

Declaring small modular reactors to be “the next innovation that will help us reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan last week introduced his government’s SMR Action Plan at a virtual event live-streamed on YouTube.

Ex-Im Bank, Poland sign MOU on U.S. energy investment

Polish Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka (left) and Ex-Im Chairman Kimberly Reed sign an MOU on U.S. energy investment in Poland on December 11. Photo: EXIM

In another sign of U.S. interest in helping Poland develop a civil nuclear power program, the Export-Import Bank of the United States announced last week that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Polish government to promote U.S. energy investment in the Central European nation. (For an earlier agreement, see here.)

The MOU was signed in Warsaw on December 11 by Ex-Im president and chairman, Kimberly A. Reed, and Poland’s minister of climate and environment, Michał Kurtyka, during Reed’s three-day visit to Poland.

The Ex-Im: As the official export credit agency of the United States, Ex-Im provides loans, loan guarantees, and insurance to foreign customers purchasing U.S. exports.

The MOU particulars: The MOU calls for Ex-Im and Poland to “explore and identify potential opportunities for Ex-Im financing and to work together to promote business development opportunities related to strategic energy projects and programs,” according to Ex-Im’s announcement. The agreement includes, but is not limited to, support for projects in nuclear energy, in particular in support of strategic projects under Poland’s nuclear power program, low- and zero-emission technologies, clean energy innovation, and critical energy infrastructure, including cybersecurity solutions.

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Nuclear News Asks: Who Inspired You?

This article presents responses from various community members about those who inspired them—or the events or things that inspired them—to go on to have careers in nuclear.

There is an interesting mix of inspirators here, the most prominent being teachers who had lasting effects on their students. There are others who offered inspiration, too, including parents and other family members.

What all the respondents have in common is their inherent drive and love of science and technology to keep nuclear moving forward.

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NNSA reportedly hacked as part of “extensive espionage operation”

In an exclusive story published yesterday, the news website Politico reports that networks of the National Nuclear Security Administration and other federal entities have been hacked “as part of an extensive espionage operation.”

Citing officials familiar with the matter, the story says that network breaches have been identified at the NNSA’s Office of Secure Transportation (which is responsible for the transport of government-owned special nuclear materials), Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Department of Energy’s Richland Field Office, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

According to the story, the hackers are believed to have gained access to the networks “by compromising the software company SolarWinds, which sells IT management products to hundreds of government and private-sector clients.”

New U.S. space nuclear policy released

An artist's concept of a fission power system on the lunar surface. Image: NASA

A national strategy for the responsible and effective use of space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP)—Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6)—was released by the White House on December 16 as a presidential memorandum.

Space nuclear systems include radioisotope power systems and nuclear reactors used for power, heating, or propulsion. Nuclear energy can produce more power at lower mass and volume compared to other energy sources and can shorten transit times for crewed and robotic spacecraft, thereby reducing radiation exposure in harsh space environments. SPD-6 establishes a road map for getting space nuclear systems into service and sets up high-level goals, principles, and federal agencies’ roles and responsibilities.

Report: Nuclear and other low-carbon generation becoming cost-competitive

The levelized costs of electricity generation from low-carbon technologies, including nuclear, are dropping and are increasingly below that of conventional fossil fuel generation, concludes a new report from the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

The 223-page report, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity—2020 Edition, the ninth such jointly produced analysis, includes plant-level cost data on power generation from nuclear, natural gas, coal, and a variety of renewable sources, including wind, solar, hydro, and biofuels. The report provides data from 243 plants in 24 countries.

Five advanced reactor designs get DOE risk reduction funding

The Department of Energy today announced $30 million in initial fiscal year 2020 funding—with the expectation of more over the next seven years—for five companies selected for risk reduction for future demonstration projects. The chosen reactor designs from Kairos Power, Westinghouse, BWX Technologies, Holtec, and Southern Company collectively represent a range of coolants, fuel forms, and sizes—from tiny microreactors to a molten salt reactor topping 1,000 MWe. They were selected for cost-shared partnerships under the Office of Nuclear Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) through a funding opportunity announcement issued in May 2020.

“All of these projects will put the U.S. on an accelerated timeline to domestically and globally deploy advanced nuclear reactors that will enhance safety and be affordable to construct and operate,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “Taking leadership in advanced technology is so important to the country’s future, because nuclear energy plays such a key role in our clean energy strategy.”

New 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets to load at Browns Ferry next spring

Additively manufactured channel fastener. Source: ORNL

The Tennessee Valley Authority will load four new 3D-printed fuel assembly brackets next spring at its Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, in Athens, Alabama. The brackets will be the first of their kind loaded into a commercial reactor, according to the Department of Energy.

The components, also called channel fasteners, were manufactured at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, in a joint project with TVA and its fuel supplier, Framatome, as part of the lab’s Transformational Challenge Reactor program. The program is designed to introduce new manufacturing techniques and approaches to industry partners in order to speed up the deployment of nuclear systems.

U.K. sets plans for clean energy and green jobs by 2050

A 170-page energy white paper, Powering Our Net Zero Future, issued by the United Kingdom government on December 14 sets big goals for cleaning up the U.K.’s energy system. According to the U.K. government, the plan would create and support green energy jobs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and would keep electricity bills affordable as the U.K. transitions to net zero emissions by 2050.

The white paper notes that the U.K. will generate emission-free electricity by 2050 with a trajectory that will see "overwhelmingly decarbonized power in the 2030s. Low carbon electricity will be a key enabler of our transition to a net zero economy with demand expected to double due to transport and low carbon heat."

The white paper builds upon the U.K. prime minister’s 38-page Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which was issued on November 18.

First fuel shipment for Vogtle-3 delivered

Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power has announced the receipt of the initial shipment of nuclear fuel for Vogtle-3, characterizing the event as a “major step” for the two-unit nuclear expansion project currently under way at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga.

Next step: With the receipt of the first nuclear fuel assemblies, the project is now focused on one of the major milestones for Unit 3, hot functional testing, the last critical step before fuel load and, ultimately, in-service operation, Georgia Power said.

In October, Vogtle plant operator Southern Nuclear announced a readjustment of its July 2020 “aggressive site schedule” dates for Unit 3 hot functional testing, fuel load, and commercial operation. The dates were moved from October 2020, December 2020, and May 2021, respectively, to January 2021, April 2021, and the third quarter of 2021. Southern Nuclear said that hot functional testing could start as late as the end of March 2021 and fuel load as late as mid-year 2021 without jeopardizing Vogtle-3’s November 2021 regulatory approved in-service date.

Kairos Power test reactor comes to repurposed Oak Ridge site

An aerial view of the ETTP site. Photo: Heritage Center, LLC

Kairos Power plans to site a test reactor it has dubbed Hermes at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The company has executed a Memorandum of Understanding with Heritage Center, LLC, to acquire the former K-33 gaseous diffusion plant site at ETTP, subject to ongoing due diligence evaluations. The announcement was made today, during the 2020 East Tennessee Economic Council Annual Meeting and Awards Celebration.

“We are thrilled at the prospect of coming to East Tennessee,” said Michael Laufer, cofounder and chief executive officer of Kairos Power. “The infrastructure available at ETTP, combined with its proximity to key collaborators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, makes this a great location to demonstrate our technology. The successful commissioning of Hermes builds on our current technology development programs and extensive engagement with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Ultimately, Hermes will prove that Kairos Power can deliver real systems at our cost targets to make advanced nuclear a competitive source of clean energy in the United States.”

Lou Martinez, vice president of strategy and innovation, added, “Today is an important day for Kairos Power. We are celebrating our 4th anniversary by showcasing an important milestone.”

NuScale module’s hydrogen production numbers updated

As a result of last month’s power uprate announcement from NuScale Power regarding its small modular reactor—a 25 percent increase to 77 MWe—the company has now announced updated evaluations for the technical feasibility and economics of producing hydrogen using heat and electricity from its SMR, the NuScale Power Module (NPM).

U.S., Slovenia ink nuclear cooperation MOU

Anže Logar, Slovenia’s foreign minister (left), talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on December 7 in Washington, D.C. Photo: State Department

In the latest example of the Trump administration’s recent efforts to forge nuclear agreements with Central and Eastern European nations (for other examples, see here, here, and here), the United States earlier this week signed a memorandum of understanding concerning strategic civil nuclear cooperation (NCMOU) with Slovenia.

The NCMOU was signed on December 8 during a visit to Washington, D.C., by a Slovenian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Anže Logar. Signing it were Christopher Ford, the administration’s assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, and Jernej Vrtovec, Slovenia’s minister of infrastructure.

The previous day, Logar met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss, among other topics, “the importance of energy security and how civil nuclear cooperation can strengthen the strategic bilateral relationship,” according to a State Department readout.

IAEA, IEA partner to enhance nuclear’s role in clean energy transition

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi signs a memorandum of understanding with the International Energy Agency during an online event. Photo: IAEA

To help speed the transition to clean energy that many experts say will be required to achieve global climate goals by mid-century, the International Atomic Energy Agency and International Energy Agency (IEA) have agreed to strengthen cooperation on activities involving nuclear power.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol on November 30 signed a memorandum of understanding, under which the two organizations will share data, statistics, energy modeling tools, policy analysis, and research, according to the IAEA on December 3. The agencies will also collaborate on publications, seminars, workshops, and webinars and increase participation in each other’s conferences and meetings of mutual interest.

Powering the future: Fusion advisory committee sets priorities

The Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee (FESAC), which is responsible for advising the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, on December 4 published the first public draft of Powering the Future: Fusion and Plasmas, a 10-year vision for fusion energy and plasma science. FESAC was charged with developing a long-range plan in November 2018.

The scope: The report, which is meant to catch the eye of leaders in the DOE, Congress, and the White House, details the needs of the fusion and plasma program identified by a FESAC subcommittee—the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee for Long Range Planning—with the help of the fusion research community. The yearlong Phase 1 of the Community Planning Process, organized under the auspices of the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics, gathered input and yielded a strategic plan that is reflected in the FESAC’s draft report.