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Obama funding “new nuclear”

President Obama’s 2016 budget includes more than $900 million for the DOE to support U.S. civilian nuclear energy. The DOE also has $12.5 billion in remaining loan guarantee authority for advanced nuclear projects through Title 17. 

Emperor's New Clothes 3

DOE Funds Advanced Pebble-Bed and Molten-Salt Nuclear Reactor Development  The DOE pushes nuclear research, deployments and some regulatory reform.GreenTech Media by Eric Wesoff  January 15, 2016 Last week, small modular reactor startup Terrestrial Energy closed $8 millionin funding for its proprietary Integral Molten Salt Reactor design.

Earlier this week, a bipartisan bill won approval by the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space and Technology to drive R&D funding for nuclear power in the U.S. According to The Hill, “The bill directs the Department of Energy to prioritize nuclear energy research that utilizes private sector funding.” The legislation encourages private firms to partner with the national labs to study nuclear reactor technology, and calls for the DOE to “complete a research reactor within the next 10 years.”

And this morning, the DOE announced the selection of two companies, X-energy and Southern Company, “to further develop advanced nuclear reactor designs.” These awards originate from the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear(GAIN) program.

DOE’s initial funding will be $6 million for each project, with both firms providing cost-share. The potential “multi-year cost-share value for this research is up to $80 million,” and it is aiming for a demonstration project in about 20 years, according to the DOE.

The advanced nuclear power projects receiving awards are: 

  • X-energy in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to further develop its advanced pebble-bed reactor, a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor fueled by “tennis-ball-sized graphite spheres.” China is constructing approximately 250 MWe of pebble-bed reactor capacity with plans for more, according to X-energy.
  • Southern Company Services is partnering with TerraPower, EPRI, Vanderbilt University, and ORNL to perform tests and materials suitability studies to support development of a Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. GTM reported on the Khosla– and Bill Gates-funded TerraPower’s unorthodox approach to reactor design with its Traveling Wave Reactor, but in this instance, the company is exploring a less radical molten salt design.

As we’ve suggested, the regulatory challenge of advanced reactors could be more of an obstacle than the physics or finance. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has regulated more than 100 reactors in the U.S., all based on the light water reactor design. It will require an enormous institutional adaptation to get this technology commercialized — and an enormous amount of funding.

Rod Adams at the website Atomic Insights points out, “The NRC’s financing model, established in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, is the root cause preventing many [regulatory actions]. That model requires that the agency bill users of its services for 90 percent of its operating budget. When there is work needed on a generic issue that applies to numerous parties, the cost is spread among the existing base of operating licensees. The ‘user fee’ model sets up an inevitable tension. …….

The DOE has attempted to confront this red tape by investing up to $452 million dollars starting in 2012 “to support first-of-a-kind engineering costs associated with certification and licensing activities for SMRs through the NRC.”

In a recent article for Huffington Post, Gregory Jaczko, former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman and commissioner, wrote, “The latest poster child for nuclear climate change salvation is a fleet of advanced reactors, which — on paper — do provide enticing improvements to the current generation of reactors. At best, however, this technology is several decades from becoming commercially viable, too far into the future to be relevant. The reality with nuclear power is that it has proven time and again to take longer and cost more to develop than predicted. There is nothing in the new designs nor the performance of the industry today that suggests this trend will end.”

President Obama’s 2016 budget includes more than $900 million for the DOE to support U.S. civilian nuclear energy. The DOE also has $12.5 billion in remaining loan guarantee authority for advanced nuclear projects through Title 17.


January 15, 2016 - Posted by | politics, technology, USA

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