Activity in America21 January 2020
NEI reviews recent developments in North and Latin America as it publishes a map of nuclear power plants in the region.
THE USA OPERATES THE LARGEST fleet of nuclear reactors in the world, with 96 units in 26 states producing almost 20% of the country’s electricity generation. However, nine nuclear units have retired since 2013, and more are scheduled to close by the end of 2025.
Declining prices for electric power in wholesale markets have placed economic pressures on many nuclear plants in the USA over recent years, leading to several plant closures (see table).
This year, Entergy permanently shut down its Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts after 47 years of operation, ending nuclear power generation in the state. The closure will leave Entergy without any operating reactors in merchant power markets from 2023, as it intends to close Indian Point 2&3, in New York, and Palisades in Michigan, in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively.
Exelon also retired its 837MW Three Mile Island 1 BWR in Pennsylvania in September 2019. The closure was announced in May after the Pennsylvania legislature failed to pass a bill that would have subsidised nuclear power plant operation in the state. FirstEnergy Corp also intends to close Beaver Valley 1&2 in 2021 unless the reactors receive some financial support from federal or state programmes. NextEra Energy has announced that Duane Arnold in Iowa will cease operations by 2020 and Pacific Gas and Electric Co said it intends to shut down two reactors at Diablo Canyon in California by August 2025.
The US Nuclear Energy Institute noted in a September report — Nuclear Costs in Context — that in the face of economic pressures, additional plants will face the prospect of early closure unless policies are put in place to better reflect the value of the benefits provided by nuclear energy. New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio have enacted policies that will compensate nuclear plants for their environmental attributes, ensuring that 14 reactors in these states will not be forced to shut down prematurely.
The USA is also building two new AP1000 reactors at Vogtle in Georgia (see 'Vogtle 3&4 update' below), and some small modular reactor (SMR) demonstration units are planned in the 2020s. NuScale Power’s reactor is the world’s first and only SMR to undergo design certification review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems is planning a 12-module SMR plant in Idaho slated for operation by the mid-2020s based on this certified design. However, the Energy Information Administration projects in its 2019 Annual Energy Outlook reference case that 22GW (22% of current nuclear capacity) will retire by 2050. This would see the US share of nuclear generation fall from around 19% today to 12% in 2050.
Recently, the USA has started legislating to boost the development of next-generation nuclear technology.
In July, the Nuclear Energy Renewal Act was introduced in the Senate. The NERA directs the Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish and enhance programmes to help reduce the operation and maintenance costs of US nuclear power plants, expand advanced modelling and simulation tools, and bolster research and development. It joins other bills, including The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), which directs the DOE to create a strategic vision for developing next-generation nuclear and authorises demonstration of two designs by 2025 and two to five additional designs by 2035.
Canada has 19 commercial reactors operating in the eastern provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick. In Ontario, over $25 billion is being invested in refurbishing reactors at the Bruce and Darlington nuclear generating stations from 2020-2033. In 2017, nuclear power provided approximately 58% of Ontario’s electricity and 36% of New Brunswick’s electricity.
Canada is also positioning itself to be a leader in next generation technology by developing SMRs and advanced reactors that could help emissions reduction in remote communities and mining industries. At the provincial level, recent SMR initiatives have included investment by New Brunswick in a small-reactor R&D ‘cluster’ centred on Pt Lepreau and a report sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Energy looking at the feasibility of SMR deployment in Ontario. The established utilities have demonstrated an interest in becoming SMR operators, are working with would-be vendors and have introduced a new Candu owners group forum focused on SMR.
One concrete SMR proposal currently under active development is that by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which, as part of its 2017 Long Term Strategy, set itself the ambitious target of siting an SMR on a CNL-managed site (eg, Chalk River) by 2026. At present, there are four project proponents engaged in the CNL invitation process: Global First Power, with partners OPG and technology developer Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), 5MWe high temperature gas reactor, proposed for Chalk River site; Urenco U-Battery, 4MWe high-temperature gas reactor; StarCore Nuclear, 14MWe high-temperature gas reactor; and Terrestrial Energy, 190MWe integral molten salt reactor. Separately eleven SMR designs are currently listed as undergoing what the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) calls Vendor Design Reviews, which provide “pre-licensing engagement” with the regulator.
Argentina has three nuclear reactors in operation, generating about 5% of its electricity. Atucha 1, a 367MW pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR), entered commercial service in 1974. It currently operates using slightly enriched (0.9%) uranium fuel, which has reduced operating costs of the unit by some 40%. Atucha 1 is licensed to operate until 2024.
Atucha 2, a 745MW PHWR, was ordered in 1979, was a Siemens design, a larger version of unit 1, and construction started in 1981. However, lack of funds caused delays and work was suspended in 1994 when the plant was 81% complete. The project was resurrected in August 2006, with work completed in September 2011, and the unit entering commercial operation in 2016.
Argentina’s third unit is a 683MW PHWR at Embalse, located in the centre of the country. In 2019, Embalse resumed commercial operation after a three-year upgrade/ refurbishment programme, which extended the reactor’s life for an additional 30 years (see NEI feature 'Extending the life of Embalse').
Argentina is building a domestically-designed small modular reactor – CAREM 25 – initially scheduled for startup in 2017 but now delayed until at least 2020. Argentina is also in negotiations with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and with Russia for the possible construction of a future nuclear power plant.
Brazil has two reactors in operation at the Angra nuclear power plant located between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Angra 1, a 657MW pressurised water reactor, started commercial operation in December 1984. The plant’s operating licence expires in 2024, and Eletronuclear has already started working on plant life extension and licence renewal. Angra 2, a 1357MW PWR, entered commercial operation in 2001. Together the two reactors produce around 2.7% of Brazil’s electricity.
Completion of the Angra 3 reactor, a twin of Angra 2 that started construction in 1983, but was never finished, hinges on finding an international partner to invest in the completion of the reactor. Finishing Angra 3 is expected to require BRL15 billion ($3.7 billion) on top of the BLR9 billion already spent. Currently work on site is suspended.
However, Eletronuclear has said plans to complete Angra 3 plant by partnering with either China’s National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), France’s EDF or Russia’s Rosatom. Beyond Angra 3, Brazil has plans to increase its nuclear capacity with two potential sites for future plants already identified in the northeastern state of Pernambuco and southeastern Minas Gerais state.
Laguna Verde comprises two 805MWe General Electric boiling-water reactors, which went into commercial operation in 1990 and 1995 and provide 4% of Mexico’s electricity. The plant is operated by state-owned Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), which has already prepared and submitted a licence renewal application to the National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards requesting a 30-year lifetime extension of the two units. An International Atomic Energy Agency Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation review mission, completed earlier in 2019, identified good performance at the plant and made a series of recommendations to further enhance LTO safety. A follow-up mission is scheduled for 2021.
There is some government support for expanding nuclear power in Mexico to reduce reliance on natural gas, but recent low gas prices have overshadowed this.
Vogtle 3&4 update
Construction work on two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Vogtle 3 and Vogtle 4 remains on track to meet the November 2021 and November 2022 commercial operation dates approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission, Southern CEO Thomas Fanning told analysts in late October. However, the company hopes to bring them online even earlier.
Construction of Vogtle 3 began in March 2013 and unit 4 in November 2014. The units are several years behind schedule and the budget has almost doubled from $14 billion to more than $26 billion. Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power (both subsidiaries of Southern Company) took over management of the construction project in 2017 after Westinghouse’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Overall the project is about 81% finished, with Vogtle 3 construction standing at about 77% complete, Fanning said.
Integrated flushing of the main cooling circuit for Vogtle 3 began in August and, as of late October, it was more than 60% complete. Open-vessel testing, where the reactor’s primary system is filled with water and checked, will begin later this year and continue through the first quarter of 2020, Fanning said.
Within a year, Southern expects construction to be mostly complete and for Vogtle 3 to be preparing for fuel loading. Despite Vogtle 3 currently running behind Southern’s aggressive target schedule, Fanning believes the company can still meet the accelerated completion date of May 2021 for Vogtle 3. Vogtle 4 is on track to beat Southern’s May 2022 completion target.
Image: Vogtle 3 construction in October (Photo ©Georgia Power)