US extends tax credit for nuclear new build; GE Hitachi joins Holtec SMR project

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

US extends tax credit to support reactor construction

The U.S. Congress has agreed to extend the $18/MWh production tax credit (PTC) for nuclear power plants in a boost to the ongoing construction of the Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors in Georgia and NuScale's planned small modular reactor (SMR) plant in Idaho.

The tax credit forms part of the broader federal budget bill signed into law by President Trump on February 9.

The legislation allows for new reactors placed in service after 2020 to qualify for the nuclear PTC and permits the allocation of credits to the first 6 GW of new reactors placed in service from 2021 onwards, the Nuclear Energy Institute said in a statement. The law also allows public entity project partners to transfer credits to other project partners.

        US wholesale power prices in 2017

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Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA), January 2018.

The Vogtle 3 & 4 Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are being developed by a consortium led by Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Nuclear. Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the project, while Oglethorpe Power Corporation holds a 30% share, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia 22.7% and Dalton Utilities 1.6%.

Vogtle 3 is expected to come online at the end of 2021 and unit 4 is expected online at the end of 2022. The units were originally expected online much earlier, but construction delays saw costs spiral and Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March 2017.

Construction of the Vogtle 3 & 4 plant has continued uninterrupted following Westinghouse's bankruptcy, Georgia Power said February 9.

Southern Nuclear, which operates the existing reactors in Georgia, became the project manager at the site and construction company Bechtel is managing the daily construction contract, the company said.

In July, Georgia Power sought additional aid from the federal government to complete the plant. At that time, Georgia Power's latest estimates showed capital costs could increase from the $5.7 billion estimate previously approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), to between $6.7 billion and $7.4 billion.

In September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) agreed to provide an additional $3.7 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors.

In December, Georgia Power received approval from the Georgia PSC to complete the construction of the reactors.

Toshiba, owner of Westinghouse, is contributing approximately $2.8 billion to the project, in addition to contractual penalties, Georgia Power said in December.

SMR developer NuScale is aiming to deliver a 600 MW plant to UAMPS, a power cooperative, by 2026, marking the U.S.’ first commercial SMR plant.

NuScale's IPWR design is based on light water reactor (LWR) technology. The Oregon-based developer delivered the first completed SMR Design Certification Application (DCA) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in January 2017. 

GE Hitachi, Global Nuclear Fuel join Holtec SMR project

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) have agreed to help accelerate the development of Holtec's SMR‐160 design.

"The cooperation will initially include nuclear fuel development supported by GNF and control rod drive mechanisms designed by GEH and may later extend to other areas," the companies said in a statement February 15.

Holtec's SMR-160 is a single loop, 160 MWe pressurized light water reactor (LWR). On January 31, the companies submitted a request for federal funding support through the U.S. Department of Energy's funding opportunity DE-FOA-0001817. The project partners aim to take advantage of new testing platforms which would demonstrate passive safety system performance and help accelerate the licensing of SMR reactors, they said.

Holtec’s new partners will "ensure that the SMR-160 supply chain can deliver and fabricate critical SMR-160 technologies and components at our new Advanced Manufacturing Division in Camden, New Jersey," Kris Singh, Holtec President and CEO, said.

“By utilizing our combined strengths, we can accelerate commercialization of this technology,” Jay Wileman, GEH President and CEO, said.

Other partners in the SMR-160 project include Canadian engineering and construction company SNC-Lavalin, Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Co. (MELCO) and New Jersey energy company PSEG Power.

In July 2017, Holtec and SNC-Lavalin agreed to accelerate the development of the SMR-160. 

Holtec launched its SMR-160 development program in 2010 and is one of only a handful of small modular reactor developers which have submitted designs to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The design is currently in the pre-application phase, according to the NRC's website.

In parallel, the SMR-160 partners are surging ahead with development plans in Canada, where there are numerous deployment opportunities and the regulatory scheme is considered less prescriptive than in the U.S. The partners are set to enter Canada's Pre-Licensing Vendor Design Review process.

                    Canada's pre-licensing vendor design reviews
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Data source: Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), February 2018.

Holtec estimates replica SMR-160 units could be built within a 36-month timeframe and an efficient development and licensing processes could put the design at the forefront of SMR deployment. SNC-Lavalin completed all of its last seven new build projects on budget and on schedule.

GEH: Multiple projects

GEH is already involved in the development of the ARC-100 SMR sodium-cooled reactor.

Last year, GEH and ARC nuclear announced they would jointly develop and license the ARC-100 design based on their sodium-cooled technologies.

In August, GEH agreed to provide engineering and design expertise to ARC Nuclear to advance the development and licensing of the ARC-100. GE Hitachi nuclear energy will license to ARC Nuclear the intellectual property associated with its PRISM advanced reactor design and provide ARC Nuclear access to tools and resources covering nuclear power quality, safety and training.

The ARC-100 began Canada's Pre-Licensing Vendor Design Review process in the fall of 2017, according to data from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

IAEA launches SMR working group to share knowledge

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is forming a Technical Working Group (TWG) for SMR development to allow member states to share information, the IAEA announced February 15. The first TWG meeting is scheduled for April 23-26 at IAEA's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

According to the IAEA, there are currently around 50 SMR concepts at various stages of development around the world.

                           SMR reactor types proposed in Canada
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Source: Summary of CNL's 2017 Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) for SMR deployment (October 2017). 

SMRs have a wide range of potential uses, including the replacement of fossil fuel power plants and non-electric applications such as cooling, heating and water desalination.

"In addition, SMRs offer options for remote regions with less developed infrastructure and for energy systems that combine nuclear and alternative sources, including renewables," the IAEA noted.

The first three "advanced SMRs" are expected to begin commercial operations in Argentina, China and Russia between 2018 and 2020, the agency said.

"SMR development is also well advanced in about a dozen other countries," it said.

In 2015, the IAEA established the SMR Regulators' Forum, which enables the sharing of regulatory learnings. The agency also recently launched a project to build regional knowledge hubs for the technical assessment of SMRs that are commercially available for "near-term" deployment.

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